The Johnson & Johnson Vaccine and Blood Clots: Not as Serious as You Think
By: Silvia DiPaola, Contributing Writer
Edited by Fatou Kourouma, Editor
On April 12, 2021, the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) Vaccine was suspended in the U.S. due to cases of serious blood-clotting issues. Although this may seem concerning, it is not as bad as you may think. In fact, your chances of acquiring blood clots from more common substances are higher than they are with the J&J vaccine. Read on to learn about the consequences of the J&J vaccine and if it is safe to receive. This article is on par with information as of 4/18/21.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stopped the use of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine on April 14th, 2021, after it had already been administered to 6.8 million people in the U.S. According to Scientific American, this is because 6 women between the ages of 18 and 48 reported serious blood clotting issues in the brain. One woman has been hospitalized for it, and one has died from the condition. Dr. William Petri, an infectious disease physician, an immunologist at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, spoke about concerns and gave suggestions to those who have received the suspended vaccine.
According to Dr. Petri, the condition that caused the blood clots associated with the J&J vaccine is called central venous sinus thrombosis. As per StatNews, the condition involves blood clots in the veins that drain blood from the brain. The 6 women in question also had lower blood platelet levels than normal, which is concerning because platelets are used to help stop external bleeding. Scientists do not know if these low platelet counts are because of the vaccine; they might also be lower because the platelets are being used to create the clots. The odds of acquiring this extremely rare side effect from the J&J vaccine are currently one in a million (6 cases out of 6.8 million doses administered, thus far), which is about half as likely as getting struck by lightning. This is why it did not show itself in the preliminary trial studies, which only included thousands of people. The odds of acquiring central venous sinus thrombosis from the vaccine are very low, and you have a higher chance of getting a blood clot if you are pregnant (0.1%), a smoker, or on birth control. To put it in perspective, the odds of acquiring this blood clot on birth control is 3 to 9 out of 10,000, according to heart.org).
Now, what should you do if you or someone you know received the J&J shot? The CDC and FDA are recommending that people who got the vaccine within the last 3 weeks be on the lookout for severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath. Luckily, the treatment of these blood clots is fairly straightforward as it involves the use of blood thinners, or anticoagulants, according to the NPR. If the person has low platelet counts, heparin would be prescribed instead. However, these blood clots can be fatal if left untreated, so it is important to recognize the symptoms.
The CDC is in the process of reviewing the J&J vaccine and making recommendations based on available evidence. A similar problem with blood clots has been seen to occur with the AstraZeneca vaccine. 182 cases were reported with 190 million doses, which is also about 1 in a million. The European Medicines Agency stated that low platelets with central venous sinus thrombosis should be listed as a possible “very rare side effect” on the labels of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Unlike the J&J vaccine, the blood-clotting problem has not been seen with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. This is quite relieving for me to hear, as I received my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine last week! Even so, the risks of the J&J vaccine seem very minimal in that there is a 1 in a million chance of acquiring a blood clot from it. I think the benefits outweigh the risks, but everyone should be made aware of both. I was interested to hear that the J&J vaccine is being postponed as investigations are done. It shows how the federal agencies have our best health interests in mind and are trying to ensure the safety of the vaccines as they roll out to the public!