The Johnson and Johnson Blood Clots: How Dangerous Are They?

As Americans pass one year with the Covid-19 pandemic, many have been scrambling to receive a Covid vaccine as soon as possible. One vaccine that many were gravitating towards was the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine, which only requires one dose. Around seven million people in the United States have already received the J&J vaccine, and more vaccinations were planned to happen in the next few months.

However, on April 13th, officials from the FDA and CDC recommended that the J&J vaccine rollout be paused due to reports of blood clots potentially caused by the vaccine. These reports involved six women between the ages of 18 to 48, all of whom had received the J&J vaccine only a few weeks prior. A short while after being vaccinated, each woman began to suffer from Cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST), a rare blood-clotting disorder that forms blood clots in the brain. When untreated, CVST can lead to hemorrhages and possibly death. The six women were also noted to have low levels of platelets in their blood, a condition known as thrombocytopenia, which makes it difficult for doctors to treat the CVST properly. Unfortunately, one woman, a 45-year-old from Virginia, passed away due to the clots, and another woman in Nebraska remains in critical condition. Three of the other women are alive but not fully recovered, and the status of the last woman remains unknown.

Although the statement from the FDA and CDC regarding the vaccine was simply a recommendation made “out of an abundance of caution,” many states decided to strictly follow their advice. Soon after the CDC’s statement was released, all states indefinitely paused the administration of J&J vaccines. In North Carolina, the NC Department of Health and Human Services stated that they would be halting the use of the J&J vaccine for all of their vaccination providers. Many clinics in NC, such as the ones on UNC and NC State’s campuses, have also stopped using J&J until further notice. 

The decision was met with mixed reactions from the public. Many argued that distrust towards vaccines is already high and preventing the use of J&J would only fuel the conspiracy theories. The risk for developing CVST from the vaccine is also extremely low (less than 1%), and compared to the risks of Covid, getting the vaccine seems to be the better option. However, others point out that confronting the problem now is much better than waiting it out and that it gives time for medical practitioners to learn how to properly treat the blood clots. 

But among the debate, one question remains: is the J&J vaccine truly the cause of the blood clots and low platelet counts? While there is no conclusive research as of now, there are a few theories. Some experts have pointed out that the J&J vaccine’s different approach to immunization may be the cause. The J&J vaccine uses adenoviruses, a common type of cold virus, to carry the genetic information about Covid-19 into the human body so that the person’s cells can build up immunity to the virus. While this approach is effective, some have theorized that it could be the cause of the low platelet counts. This theory is also backed up by AstraZeneca, another Covid-19 vaccine with a similar immunization approach that had the same side effects as the J&J vaccine. However, it is important to note that there are no clear answers right now and everything is merely speculation. 

Fortunately, research is being done to try to figure out the problem. After the CDC made their statement on the 13th, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) met the following day to discuss the issue. After deliberation, they concluded that there was not enough information to change the CDC’s current recommendation and that they would continue to review the reports for the next seven to ten days. While new information has not been discovered yet, there are rumors that the ACIP staff is considering changing the guidelines for who should receive the J&J vaccine. They may recommend it only to men who are over fifty, since men over fifty have the lowest risk of being affected by CVST. But, until the ACIP reaches a breakthrough in their research, this change will likely not happen anytime soon. 

While the idea of blood clots caused by a vaccine can seem scary for some, it is important to remember that these side effects are extremely rare and are only of concern for a small percentage of people. If you were vaccinated with J&J in the past month, keep an eye out for these symptoms: abdominal pain, leg pain, shortness of breath, and moderate to severe headaches that begin six days after vaccination. While there is only a small chance that you will experience these symptoms at all, be sure to contact your doctor if they do arise. And, for those who were planning on getting the J&J vaccine, Pfizer and Moderna have so far shown little to no side effects and remain perfectly good substitutes for your Covid-19 vaccine. For those in Wake County, you can visit Wake County’s website for information on how to receive your Covid vaccine as soon as possible.

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