We’ve lived through a fearful year. The majority of 2020 and all of 2021 have been defined by COVID-19, and our new normal includes a lot of worry over our health and the healthiness of the people we love. It’s also been a time marred by distrust in public health. That may explain why, when six women developed blood clots after receiving the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine, people’s anxieties seemed to come alive.
On Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration urged healthcare officials to halt the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made the same call last week. It seems like people are listening. North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services said it has paused administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine until it hears more the CDC and FDA, and urged N.C. residents to go to appointments for Moderna and Pfizer vaccines as normal. UNC-Chapel Hill announced its student vaccine clinic would pause administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine shortly after the FDA’s statement was made public.
It also seems like these fears, while rooted in actual data, are probably overblown.
Six women, from ages 18 to 48, were hit with these blood clots within two weeks of getting the vaccine. One has died, and another is in critical condition. They are six of the more than 6.8 million people who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine so far.
“When you think about a one in a million event: You cross the street every day,” Dr. Carlos del Rio told CNN Tuesday. “You have a much higher chance of getting run over by a car. I think what people need to [do] is [not] freak out.”
To extend the metaphor further: You’re likelier to die from COVID-19, the disease the vaccine is treating that has killed 1.8 percent of U.S. residents who tested positive. You’re also more likely to experience blood clots as a side effect of birth control pills.
The issue is that these blood clots are also rare, compared to other forms of blood clots. They occur at a higher rate in everyday health screenings (two to 14 people out of 1 million annually) than they do as a side effect of the vaccine, but they have to be treated differently from more common forms of blood clots. The treatments typically used for blood clots could even harm the patient. Because of this, it’s best to see a healthcare professional and disclose that you’ve received a vaccine.
It’s important to take this seriously. Vaccines are serious business. But it’s also important that you understand just how likely or unlikely it is to happen. And if you feel seriously unwell after receiving the vaccine, you should talk to a doctor as soon as possible.
“We’re committed to following the science and ensuring transparency, and to providing regular updates,” Anne Schuchat, deputy director of the CDC, said at a Tuesday press conference. “We’re going to tell you what we know when we know it, and what you can do to protect yourself.”
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