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What You Need To Know About Johnson & Johnson's Potential Risk of Blood Clots

Early on Tuesday, April 13th, federal health agencies called for an immediate halt of the use of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine. This pause is in response to the six recipients that developed a rare blood clot disorder after receiving the vaccine.

Here’s what you need to know:

- The six recipients were women between the ages of 18 and 48. One woman has died and a second woman has been hospitalized in critical condition.

- The women developed an extremely rare blood clotting disorder known as cerebral venous sinus thrombosis.

- All of the women developed symptoms 6 to 13 days after they received the shot.

- Officials speculate the disorder could be caused by an immune system response triggered by the vaccine.

- The director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research said the pause in the use of the vaccine is out of “an abundance of caution… right now, these adverse events appear to be extremely rare.

- The statement by the FDA was a recommendation to health practitioners in the states, but federally run vaccination sites will also stop administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine until further notice.

- An emergency meeting has been scheduled for Wednesday by the CDC to further review the cases. The FDA is also analyzing the cases.

If you received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine; Don’t Panic!

This is an EXTREMELY RARE potential side effect of the vaccine, health officials do not yet know if it is tied to the vaccine. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been administered to over 6.8 million Americans and this condition has only appeared in 6 people.

The people that developed the condition were all women, between the ages of 18 and 48. They developed symptoms between 6 and 13 days after receiving the vaccine. However, regardless of your age, if you see the following symptoms within 3 weeks after inoculation contact your health care provider:

  • Severe headache

  • Abdominal pain

  • Leg pain

  • Shortness of breath

There is concern that even if these symptoms are brought to a health care professional, they might not be trained to look for the rare disorder. Further, federal health agencies noted that “treatment of this specific type of blood clot is different from the treatment that might typically be administered for blood clots.” The use of the commonly used blood thinner herapin may actually be dangerous to those with cerebral venous sinus thrombosis.

COVID-19 vaccines and blood clots:

Unfortunately, this is not the first time a COVID-19 vaccine has been linked to blood clots. Earlier this month, European officials began to investigate links between the AstraZeneca vaccine and rare cases of blood clots. The blood clots are the same as the ones seen in potential response to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine- cerebral venous sinus thrombosis. These blood clots occur in veins within the brain and accompany low platelet counts.

The AstraZeneca vaccine uses an adenovirus to stimulate immune system cells, which is also what the Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses. Specifically, a modified version of a chimpanzee adenovirus is used to enter human cells but not replicate within them. A coronavirus gene has been inserted into the adenovirus DNA, allowing the vaccine to target spike proteins COVID-19 uses to enter our cells. This is unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which use mRNA technology to teach your cells to manufacture a spike protein.

Researchers speculate the combination of blood clots and low platelet counts is an immune response. Similar to a condition in patients treated with blood-thinner herapin. This combination of blood clots and low platelet count occurred in people who had received the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Similar to the occurrences in the United States, cases were in women under the age of 60 and symptoms appeared within 2 weeks of the first dose. However, similar to reports about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, this reaction is extremely rare. Out of the 17 million people in the UK and EU that received that vaccine, less than 40 cases of blood clots were reported.

However, the AstraZeneca vaccine has been approved by the World Health Organization, European Medicines Agency, and UK medical officials for continued use. According to officials, the evidence “does not suggest” that the vaccine causes blood clots.

What this means for US vaccinations:

It is unclear what will happen in response to Tuesday’s halt of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. My speculation is that the vaccine will be approved for continued use with further caution, as was done with the AstraZeneca vaccine. The connection between Johnson & Johnson and blood clots will most likely be found to be coincidental, as people with the condition potentially had it or were at risk of developing it before receiving the vaccine.

This should not hinder you from accepting any other Covid-19 vaccine- as the mRNA vaccines use completely different platforms to achieve immunity. Unfortunately, it will likely be harder to get a vaccination moving forward, as Johnson & Johnson vaccines are temporarily halted.

In the meantime…

Stay safe, and stay vigilant in your personal protective measures against COVID-19. It is still vital to do everything you can to strengthen your immune system and engage in protective practices to defend you from Covid-19.