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Debra Furr-Holden, associate dean for Public Health Integration at Michigan State University, answers questions about resuming the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. She is also the director of the Flint Center for Health Equity Solutions, funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities; and she was appointed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to be a member of the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities.
As a doctor, do you believe the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is safe?
The vaccine is much safer than contracting COVID-19. To put this in perspective, out of 7-million doses of the J&J vaccine administered, less than 20 people developed clots. As an epidemiologist who studies health risks, I agree with medical colleagues across the world who agree the vaccine has proven to be safe and the clots that have occurred are extremely rare. We monitor adverse reactions on an ongoing basis from all of the currently available vaccines to make sure we understand and can minimize any risks.
More people have developed blood clots after contracting COVID-19 than after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Is this correct?
Yes, this is correct. About 18-20% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients develop blood clots compared to less than 20 people who’ve developed blood clots from the J&J vaccine. You don’t have to be a math major to calculate the greater risk. I’d rather get a vaccine than get COVID-19.
Are there warning signs that a person is developing a blood clot after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?
Yes, there are signs. Health authorities advise that people who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and develop severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks after vaccination should contact their health care provider. These are possible early indicators of a blood clot.
It’s being reported that hesitancy to get a COVID-19 vaccine is increasing, fueled in part by the extremely rare Johnson & Johnson vaccine blood clots, and also by a belief by some that if others get vaccinated then they won’t have to. Is this a concern?
We need the vaccine to reach herd immunity, and we need everyone who is eligible to consider getting it. The sooner we get people vaccinated, the more we can do stop the spread of the virus and variants of the virus which appear to spread more easily and possibly cause more illness and death. If we don’t achieve herd immunity soon, we run the risk of reliving 2020.