Already got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine? Here’s what to look out for

Since being approved for emergency use authorization by the FDA in late February, 6.8 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine have been administered.

On Tuesday the CDC and FDA announced they were investigating unusual blood clots in six women that occurred 6 to 13 days after vaccination and the Arkansas Department of Health announced that they are pausing the use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine in the state.

Dr. Robert Hopkins is a professor of internal medicine and pediatrics at UAMS and serves as the Director of the Division of General Internal Medicine. He said the condition is called Cerebral Venous Sinus Thrombosis and it is very rare.

“The numbers that I’ve seen are somewhere between .5 cases to 2 cases per 100,000, which is really uncommon,” Hopkins said.

The condition is associated with low levels of platelets. Hopkins said it can cause clotting in one of the sinuses around the brain, which may cause increased brain pressure. This may require surgery to remove the clot and could potentially cause death.

“You have to use the right kind of blood, anticoagulant or blood thinner medication. Sometimes require surgery, sometimes requires other interventions to try to stop this chronic process,” Hopkins said.

Hopkins said the condition has been found in six women between the ages of 18 to 48. State health officials said none of the cases were found in Arkansas.

Hopkins said that women are more likely to have clotting than men but the condition can also be found in men. While it will take some investigating to find out what’s causing the clotting, he said it could be hormone-related.

“Oral contraceptives and a number of other factors are associated with people having clotting,” Hopkins said. “There are so few cases right now, and it’s so early on, we really don’t have a good hypothesis or theory of why this happened.”

Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero, said Johnson & Johnson presented to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices Tuesday and the information will be available through a public meeting Wednesday. That’s when they will detail the specific cases.

Romero warned that physicians need to be aware that the treatment for this particular disease is not a standard treatment.

“There will be a HONN, a Health Alert Network Notification, about this and will provide information for treatment,” Romero said. “You can always reach out to physicians, and care providers can reach out to the health department where our physicians can provide you with information.”

For now, Hopkins said the safest thing to do is pause and investigate, rather than potentially put more people at risk when there are other vaccines available.

He said those who have already gotten the shot should look out for:

  • Severe migraine-like headaches that don’t respond to medications
  • New severe abdominal pain,
  • New severe leg pain or swelling
  • Sudden shortness of breath

“Now, all of those aren’t necessarily associated with Cerebral Sinus Thrombosis but those are all things that would make me think about evaluating somebody for a chronic condition,” Hopkins said.

Hopkins said he understands many Arkansans were already on the fence about getting the vaccine before the news of the J&J vaccine came out. He said the situation reinforces the importance of safety and protecting people from developing COVID-19, which could also lead to death.

“I understand people being fearful and concerned, what I would say is this is a signal that our systems to monitor for safety work,” Hopkins said. “We have the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines, we have not seen any signal that this is a problem with either of those vaccines. We need to continue to move forward to vaccination of as many people as possible if we’re going to help to defeat this pandemic.”

Hopkins believes there is a good chance health officials will approve the use of the J&J vaccine again. However, it could come with more factors on who should receive it.

“Whether we will try to target it to particular groups that may have less risk,” Hopkins said. “I think that we very well may have some of those cautions.”

He said moving forward, it remains critical that Arkansans wear masks, avoid crowds and practice all public health measures.

“That, hand-in-hand with vaccination, are the two things that are going to get us through all of this,” Hopkins said.

There were Johnson & Johnson vaccine clinics scheduled with Harmony Health Clinic in Little Rock and with the City of Conway. Both clinics will now be switching over to the Pfizer vaccine.

Harmony Health:

  • Thursday, April 15 from 2:00 – 6:00 p.m.
  • 201 E. Roosevelt Road, Little Rock, AR.
  • Appointments: 501-375-4400, walk-ins also welcome
  • Interpreters will be on hand
  • No ID or insurance required
  • Second dose clinic May 6

“Luckily, our wonderful partners at the Pharmacy at Wellington basically already had it handled before I probably even woke up this morning,” Interim Executive Director Hannah Vogler, said, “I think the important thing is like with everything, don’t panic, we have options, please continue to get your vaccine, it’s so incredibly important to our public health.”

The City of Conway:

  • Partnership with Baptist Health and Conway Regional Health System
  • Saturday, April 17 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • Don Owens Sport Center: 10 Lower Ridge Rd., Conway AR 72032
  • Register online or call Conway Fire Department at (501) 450-6147

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