Johnson & Johnson was the newest of the three vaccines available. Moreover, contamination problems at a supply plant in Baltimore had recently been recorded, preventing the company from shipping doses via that facility.
When Kristi Escobar was given a Johnson & Johnson vaccine appointment last Monday, she wondered if she should decline.
However, the 38-year-old community college teacher who had tested positive for COVID-19 in January was aware that the virus’s violent new variants posed a threat, and that health experts advised people with previous infections to get the vaccine.
“I trusted in what they said as far as, ‘Take the vaccine you can get,'” she stated.
Escobar was shocked to learn on Tuesday, the day after her shot, that federal regulators had recommended a national suspension of all J&J injections due to reports of unusual but dangerous blood clots.
The cases were extremely rare: only 6 people out of nearly 7 million who received the vaccine developed blood clots in the brain and had low platelets. A individual is twice as likely to be struck by lightning than to suffer a severe reaction to the J&J vaccine. Furthermore, COVID-19, which has already killed over 566,000 Americans, can cause blood clotting as a severe complication.
In reality, the risks were so low that many governors and health experts slammed the decision to keep the “pause” in injections, claiming it would put even more people at risk from COVID.
Nonetheless, Escobar, like many other women who had recently earned J&J shots, felt personally affected by the news of complications. Women between the ages of 18 and 48 were involved in each of the six cases in the United States. One of the women, a 45-year-old Virginia resident, died.
When she heard the news, she said she instantly started crying.
“My fear is probably not rationale,” she expressed. “But I can’t help it. It’s just how I feel.”
Escobar is also one of the estimated 3 million Americans who have recently received the J&J vaccine, prompting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to alert them to watch for extreme headaches, chest or leg pain, or trouble breathing.
When it comes to a person’s symptoms, the timing is crucial. The signs appeared six to 18 days after the injection in six of the six cases under investigation.
People who received the J&J vaccine more than three weeks ago are not at risk, and experts say mild flu-like symptoms are common in the 24-48 hours after a vaccine. The Moderna or Pfizer vaccines have not been linked to the rare blood clotting.
Angie Willson, a 45-year-old Detroit mom and nurse anesthetist said she understands the fear. She had driven an hour and a half out of state to get the J&J vaccine almost two weeks before the national suspension, believing it to be a “more traditional choice” among the COVID vaccines.
Willson could have gotten vaccinated earlier as a health care worker, but she waited until a new surge in COVID-19 cases inundated her Michigan hospital with younger patients whose lungs had been infected by the virus.
Her emotions are now mixed. “I’m glad I’m building antibodies, but I’m sweating it. … It’s very emotional,” she said.
With the national suspension in place, regulators are now waiting to see if more cases appear in the coming days that will help them solve what has become a daunting medical mystery: Is the J&J vaccine to blame for these very uncommon yet deadly blood clots? Are young, healthy women the most vulnerable? Is this vaccine still effective for others?
One major concern is how health-care providers can handle any problems, no matter how minor. Officials claim that in these situations, physicians should stop using heparin because the blood thinner tended to exacerbate the complications.
J&J company also agreed to delay its rollout of the vaccine in Europe and pause its clinical trials until more data comes in. “The safety and well-being of the people who use our products is our number one priority, and we strongly support awareness of the signs and symptoms of this extremely rare event to ensure the correct diagnosis, appropriate treatment and expedited reporting by health care professionals,” Paul Stoffels, a vice chairman and chief scientific officer at J&J, said in a statement.
This week, top government officials insisted that the matter would be settled in a matter of “days.” However, it does not appear that answers will be forthcoming anytime soon.