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What you need to know about the Johnson & Johnson reactions that paused distribution

Posted at 4:37 PM, Apr 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-28 17:41:10-04

BALTIMORE (WMAR) — Injections of Johnson & Johnson's single dose COVID-19 vaccine came to a sudden halt in Maryland Tuesday after federal health agencies called for a pause out of an abundance of caution, following the emergence of a rare blood clotting in six recipients out of nearly seven million.

The reported rare immune reaction causes blood clotting and is quite literally a one in a million occurrence. Still federal officials recommended a pause at least for a few days, while they review the cases and collect more data.

"I’d like to stress these events appear to be extremely rare however COVID-19 vaccine safety is a top priority for the federal government and we take all reports of adverse events following vaccination very seriously," said Dr. Janet Woodcock, acting FDA Commissioner.

CDC and FDA officials said all six were women between the ages of 18 and 48 and all developed the illness within one to three weeks of vaccination. One woman died and a second woman has been hospitalized in critical condition.

RELATED: Maryland Dept. of Health directs all COVID-19 vaccine providers in the state to pause Johnson & Johnson doses

"This is an immune response that occurs very very rarely after some people received the vaccine and that immune response leads to activation of the platelets and these extremely rare blood clots," said Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.

Federal health officials said these reactions are a pattern similar to what is being seen in Europe with AstraZeneca.

They said if you got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine more than a month ago, your risk is very low at this time. For people who recently go the vaccine within the last few weeks, look for symptoms.

"If you’re seeing flu like symptoms and headache for the first few days after vaccination, that is likely just what has been seen in the common adverse events that are not serious with these vaccines. It would be more important that if someone presented to a emergency room with a very severe headache or with blood clots, that a history of prior vaccination be elicited," said Marks.

"If you’ve received the vaccine and developed severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath, you should contact your health care provider and seek medical treatment," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, CDC Principal Deputy Director.

During the pause, the CDC will be looking deeply at this cases and developing new vaccine guidelines to providers about reactions and treatment, which is different than traditional medicine.

"If one administers the standard treatments that we as doctors have learned to give for blood clots, one can actually cause tremendous harm or the outcome could be fatal," said Marks.

The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will meet Wednesday to review these cases.