Why the Johnson & Johnson Vaccine was Paused and What It Means

More than 6.8 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been administered. After six women experienced unusual blood clots, use of the vaccine has been paused. No link to the vaccine has been established yet, and it seems that there is less than a one in a million chance of the problem occurring. But, when so many doses of the vaccine are being distributed, the CDC and FDA want to be entirely sure of their safety.

The women were between the ages of 18 and 48. One has died. The clots happened between six and 13 days after the women received their shot.

Some people are upset that the vaccine is being disparaged when folks want a shot and are having problems getting an appointment. Some commonly prescribed medications have blood clots as a known side effect. Birth control pills cause clots in four out of every 10,000 women who use them. However, one difference in this situation is that this is a possible unknown side effect. With other medications, you already are aware of it, can anticipate how it interacts with prescriptions. If the vaccine has a strange side effect, it can pose a problem.

We know there are plenty of critics who say, ‘Why? It’s just a couple of cases. Why don’t we just move along?’” said Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s vaccine center. “We simply have to do whatever we can to minimize or eliminate issues that might be considered friendly fire.”

As it is “paused” instead of recalled, you can still get the vaccine if you and your doctor think it’s worth the risk. If you have an appointment coming up and haven’t discussed it, your appointment will probably be rescheduled, or you will be offered a different type of vaccine. The FDA said that anyone who has received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, or chooses to ignore the warning, should watch their symptoms. People should call their doctor immediately if they have shortness of breath, leg or abdominal pain or a bad headache within three weeks of receiving their shot. Some medications can treat blood clots, but heparin, a traditional blood-thinner, can actually worsen this specific situation. Other drugs should be used.

The good news is that the much more widely used Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have not had this problem. Roughly 180 million doses of those have been administered in the U.S. without any serious issues. They have been being distributed for longer. The vaccines made by Moderna and Pfizer are produced differently than the ones made by Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca. AstraZeneca’s vaccine has not been released in America. It has been paused in many places because it has also been possibly linked to clotting incidents.

The FDA and CDC have both stressed that the decision to hit the brakes on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was made “out of an abundance of caution.” The clots happened to less than one in a million people. It could have nothing to do with the vaccine. But if it is, they need to know; they need to be able to decide how to move forward. It could be that the vaccine is discarded completely, or it could be that doctors need to inform patients of the risk and monitor them more closely after they get the shot.

So many people are hesitant to receive the vaccine. It’s only through honest actions like this that health officials can show that they are “on the level.” We are in an impossible situation and a health crisis that is impacting people all around the world. They want to protect people as quickly as possible. The vaccines are very new. While they have all been through all the correct trials, they are still new to the market, and there can be problems. Pausing them now and being honest about the reason shows they are trying to be as clear and responsible as possible. Getting the vaccine is your personal choice. You should evaluate all of your options, risks and benefits before making a decision.

Image: John Cameron via Unsplash

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