From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, one major question on the minds of the public is: When will things be normal again? Many medical and public health experts agree that vaccines are the best tool to hasten a return to the unmasked world. Recently, however, there has been a barrier to this with the FDA putting a pause on the distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine due to health risks. Many patients feel confused and concerned about these risks and what caused the FDA to change its mind and once again allow for the use of the J&J vaccine. As an Emergency Physician, these are my recommendations for anyone who is concerned about the possible health complications of the J&J vaccine. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs Your Illness is Actually Coronavirus in Disguise.
Should You Take the J&J Vaccine?
The risks associated with this vaccine were a report of blood clots and low platelets in some patients. According to the data that was distributed from the CDC there were roughly 6.8 million doses of the vaccine given. Of those, roughly 15 individuals reported a complication of blood clots, mostly in the veins of the brain. It was also associated with low platelets, which are fragments of cells in the the bloodstream and help to initiate clot formation. The patients affected are between the ages of 18 and 59, and all seem to have complications between 6-15 days after administration of the vaccine. Although it is a very serious side effect, this reflects a 0.0002% risk of adverse outcome from the vaccine. This is the important factor to consider when determining if you should take the vaccine yourself.
What Are Your Risks?
According to the data that has been reported from the CDC through their Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting system, the risk seems to be higher in females between the ages of 18-59. The interesting factor is that any individual, male or female undefended of age, has a roughly 1 in 1,000 risk of developing a blood clot every year. There are specific genetic predispositions, as well as lifestyle risks, that will increase an individuals likelihood of developing a blood clot. According to the data, long periods of immobility such as transcontinental flights present a much higher risk of blood clot than what has been reported with the J&J vaccine.
Why Not Avoid It?
For many people, our healthcare system will allow for a conversation with their doctor to determine what brand of vaccine they would like to receive. For others, the choice is much more limited. The logistical challenges posed by other vaccines on the market, such as extremely low temperatures for transportation as well as storage, has made it nearly impossible for some communities to have access. The J&J vaccine does not require such rigorous temperature specifications during transport and distribution which has allowed for many more communities to vaccinate their residents.
The J&J vaccine is also a single dose regimen. For many in the United States, it is a mere inconvenience to schedule a second dose of a vaccine three or four weeks in the future. But for some of our most vulnerable, such as migrant workers, or homeless members of society, a second dose may be impossible. The FDA allowing for the distribution of the J&J vaccine is important for society as a whole to become vaccinated and achieve the long awaited "herd immunity" level.
What Should I Do If I Get It?
Just like any vaccination, there is the possibility of allergic reactions as well as symptoms of fever, or chills. Any individual who has had anaphylaxis in the past should consult a physician before receiving any vaccine. For other symptoms, such as fever, or fatigue and muscle cramping, over the counter medications should help.
Some of the symptoms that are going to be more concerning and should be immediately evaluated in the Emergency Department will be severe onset of headache, blurry vision, shortness of breath, coughing up blood or painful leg swelling. It is also important to recognize that the risk of these side effects are still exquisitely low.
Final Words From the Doctor
The past year has been one filled with such concerning news of horrible health outcomes. The advent of vaccines seemed to give some hope that the world could return to normal. Finding out there were any risks associated with vaccination added more unease to an already doubting public. Although you should consult your physician before receiving any vaccine, it is important to keep everything in perspective. The faster the population gets vaccinated, the faster the COVID-19 pandemic will be a thing of the past. So if you feel you are not at risk, get vaccinated when it becomes available to you, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.