APR 30, 2021 1:05 PM PDT

J&J COVID-19 Vaccine Reaction Clusters Caused by Anxiety

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Vaccinating as many people as possible will be one of several efforts that will be needed to halt the progression of the COVID-19 pandemic. The vaccination effort was making good progress, but unfortunately hit a speed bump a few weeks ago when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended pausing the use of the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen/J&J) vaccine. Out of 6.8 million people that received the J&J vaccine in the U.S, there had been six cases of people getting serious but rare blood clots (called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST), seen in combination with low levels of blood platelets) after they'd gotten the J&J vaccine, and the agencies wanted to know more about the cause.

Colorized scanning electron micrograph of a cell (purple) infected with SARS-CoV-2 virus particles (yellow), isolated from a patient sample. Image captured at the NIAID Integrated Research Facility (IRF) in Fort Detrick, Maryland. Credit: NIAID

Shortly after that, Johnson & Johnson issued a statement in the New England Journal of Medicine that noted that there'd been only one case of these severe clots out of 75,000 people in their clinical trial. They suggested that there was insufficient evidence to show a causal link between the vaccine and the clots.

After a thorough review, nine additional cases were identified. They all occurred in women between the ages of 18 and 59. Ultimately, that means there have been fifteen cases in total among over 8 million doses given, according to the FDA and CDC. The agencies reaffirmed that the J&J vaccine is safe, and there is only a "remote" chance of these clots occurring.

There were also a couple of occasions in which multiple people at a mass vaccination site and several clinics in North Carolina began to experience dizziness and fainting. In Wake County, 18 out of over 2,300 people that were given the J&J vaccine had adverse reactions. There were similar incidents in Iowa, Colorado, Georgia, and North Carolina; people were short of breath, light-headed, and feeling faint. In all, 65 mild cases were reported.

Officials have now found that anxiety caused these milder reactions. This phenomenon is known to happen after vaccines; people are so concerned about the injection, it causes a physical reaction.

Dr. Noni MacDonald, a Canadian researcher who has investigated such incidents told the Associated Press (AP) that “we knew we were going to see this” as mass vaccination sites were established to fight the pandemic.

The CDC noted that since the J&J vaccine is only one dose, it may be more appealing to people that are anxious about shots or vaccines, which would make it “more highly predisposed to anxiety-related events.”

MacDonald is a professor of pediatrics at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia who also noted that studies have found that between ten and fifteen percent of adults are afraid of injections. She added that it can affect anyone, including men. There was an incident in which fourteen reservists in the U.S. military got flu shots in 2009 and developed symptoms.

“Everybody thinks this is (only) young teenage girls” who experience this, MacDonald said. “Well, it isn’t. These people are not crazy,” but are having genuine physical responses to psychological stress.

Sources: CDC, FDA, AP

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
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