Doctors explain cause of J&J vaccine pause, tout overall safety

Published: Apr. 13, 2021 at 5:33 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - For the time being, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is on hold. In Sedgwick County, those who had appointments to get the shot this week were instead offered the Pfizer vaccine, which requires two shots instead of one. The CDC recommended a “pause” in the administration of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to investigate reports of potentially dangerous blood clots. That information caught the attention of many, but the issue seems to be remote and the pause is more of a cautionary measure rather than a widespread emergency situation.

KU School of Medicine-Wichita Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine/Center for Clinical Research Director Dr. Tiffany Schwasinger-Schmidt, M.D., Ph.D. put the number of cases causing the concern into perspective.

“The number of these cases, while concerning, is incredibly small and this is a very, very low rate in which we’re seeing this,” she said.

What is prompting the cautious approach is a rare type of blood clot called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, or CVST. Each year, it affects about five out of every 1 million people. Of the nearly 7 million Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses administered, only six of these cases have been found. All six are women, aged 18 to 48, who showed symptoms within two weeks of getting the vaccine. While no direct link between the vaccine and blood clots has been found, it is being looked into.

“Some medical diagnosis come to light after people had something happen to them like receiving a vaccine,” Dr. Schwansinger-Schmidt said. “That doesn’t mean necessarily that the vaccine caused it, but it means that the condition was diagnosed during that time.”

She said if you have concerns, reach out to your doctor. She added that one fact about the vaccine does not change.

“The vaccines have so much benefit at preventing COVID. Stopping the loss of life that we’re seeing and the disability from this disease far more outweighs the risks of these very, very rare side effects that we’re seeing,” Dr. Schwasinger-Schmidt said.

Wednesday (April 14) marks the next step regarding the future of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine with a meeting of the Advisory Committee of Immunization Practices. The committee will review the six cases with blood clot issues and investigate any connection to the vaccine. While it’s unknown how long the pause will last, some public health officials said they expect it to be temporary.

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