One in a million. That’s the odds of developing blood clots if you’ve received the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine, according to local, state and national health leaders.
That’s still a cause for concern, and ongoing research into all areas of COVID-19 treatment and prevention support the decision to pause distribution of the J&J drug – despite evidence that it has been overwhelmingly successful.
But we believe – and scientists agree – that the single-dose J&J vaccine will still be a key weapon in the battle against the virus.
On Monday, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that they were conducting an investigation into rare, but potentially dangerous, blood clots that occurred 6 to 13 days after vaccination. The same day, the Pennsylvania Department of Health followed the national move to withhold the J&J vaccines temporarily.
Nearly 7 million people have received the single-dose J&J – or Janssen – vaccines in the United States. Six people had been diagnosed with blood clots that may be related to the shots, and one person had died.
Dr. Denise Johnson, acting state physician general, said the pause in distribution “is really indicative of our dedication to make sure this entire process is monitored so tightly and with such intensity that folks can really trust in the vaccine that they are receiving.”
There are still sufficient supplies of the Pfizer and Moderna two-dose vaccines available that most people will be able to get shots. That includes a program this week by the Johnstown Housing Authority to reach residents of the city’s public housing neighborhoods.
That initiative switched from the one-dose J&J to Moderna when the pause was announced, according to the Cambria County COVID-19 Task Force.
“The thing that is really concerning is that these blood clots are occurring with low platelet levels,” Johnson said, as reported by our Randy Griffith. “That is not something that we see very commonly.”
Locally, most vaccine distributions have involved Moderna and Pfizer. However, many teachers have received the single-dose vaccinations, which were designated for that purpose by the state and administered through intermediate units.
Acting Secretary of State Alison Beam said the state has distributed more than 260,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson – out of more than 6.5 million total shots – and much of the supply was made available to K-12 and preschool teachers and staff.
Local infectious disease experts say it’s highly unlikely those educators have anything to fear about getting the J&J shots.
“The risk of this happening is very, very low,” Matthew Tracey, an assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, said Tuesday on a COVID-19 Questions digital forum. “The risk-to-benefit ratio is going to be heavily in favor of the benefit.”
Jill Henning, an associate professor of biology at UPJ and a member of the Cambria County COVID-19 Task Force, noted that many other day-to-day activities bring a much higher risk of harm than the million-to-1 statistic concerning the J&J shots.
But a pause will help scientists better understand why the clotting can happen and rebuild trust for the shots – realizing that there remains a degree of skepticism about vaccinations and the coronavirus generally.
“There may be a subset of individuals who are directed not to get that vaccine but there are other individuals that it is safe for,” Henning said.
But, she said, “you take that vaccine because COVID is worse.”
Tracey said the Johnson & Johnson shots have been highly effective where it matters most – keeping individuals from developing virus-produced symptoms that could land them in hospitals.
In recent weeks, we’ve documented a surge in positive cases and hospitalizations across the state and our region.
We continue to urge our readers to get vaccinated against the virus, and to take precautions – mask-wearing, social-distancing, regular hand-washing – to protect themselves and others from COVID-19, which has killed more than 25,500 Pennsylvanians.