This article was updated November 2021 to reflect new information from the CDC.
Out of an abundance of caution, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended pausing the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in April 2021, after a handful of patients suffered a rare clotting condition weeks after receiving the shot.
The pause was lifted 11 days later on the recommendations of a CDC advisory panel. Ravi Hasanadka, MD, a vascular surgeon with OSF HealthCare Cardiovascular Institute, said the pause was a way to gather information on the vaccine’s possible role in the condition, Cerebral Venous Sinus Thrombosis (CVST), and how to diagnose and treat it.
While CVST is a concerning diagnosis and symptoms should be taken seriously, Dr. Hasanadka said it is incredibly rare.
“When you have a clot in that cerebral venous sinus, or the vein that drains the brain, you have stroke symptoms, from bleeding in the brain,” Dr. Hasanadka said. “There can be headaches, also confusion. So those are the symptoms they are saying if you have two to three weeks after you receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine you should contact your doctor or get emergency care.”
Pause of vaccine was a cautionary step
The pause on the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was a cautionary step to see how “we should diagnose it and treat it for when that rare condition occurs, but the benefits of being vaccinated far outweigh the risks of having these clotting complications,” he said.
As research continues about the connection between CVST and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Dr. Hasanadka said one thing is certain – getting a COVID-19 infection is proven to dramatically increase a patient’s risk for blood clots.
“One of the first tests they can do on you if they suspect you of a clot is called a D-dimer test, a product made when clots form. Those numbers in COVID patients, even without forming a clot, are insanely high. They are the highest D-dimers you will see as a doctor,” Dr. Hasanadka said. “So the belief is that people with a COVID-19 infection are forming tiny clots and they are just showering their bodies with them constantly. So there are higher incidents of pulmonary embolism, which is a clot in the lungs, as well as deep venous thrombosis, a clot in the leg veins or arm veins.”
Benefits of being vaccinated outweigh the risks
Dr. Hasanadka maintains that vaccinations against COVID-19 are our best shot to help end the pandemic, and their value far outweighs the minute risks of clotting side effects.
Currently, anyone age 5 and older are eligible to be vaccinated using the Pfizer vaccine. Moderna and Johnson & Johnson have been approved for use in individuals 18 and older. Get vaccinated and get the latest information about the COVID-19 vaccine.