Ramapo student shares experience with J&J vaccine

Photo courtesy of New York National Guard, Flickr

I want to make it clear that I am not one to promote vaccine skepticism.

On March 6, I showed up at the Camden County vaccine megasite and found out I’d be receiving Johnson & Johnson. I was thrilled; I would have robust immunity in just three weeks’ time, and my anxiety could soon be put to rest.

Just a month later, texts were coming in from friends and family of headlines: “Six rare blood clotting cases,” “Pause in Johnson & Johnson vaccine.” This wasn’t just because I had received the vaccine, it was that a week earlier I’d been in the ER to find out I had a blood clot in my leg.

I know that it’s not the same type of blood clot, and that correlation doesn’t equal causation. Though it is hard not to wonder about it.

The reality of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is this: it is an emergency vaccine with a speed-lined approval process, and we should always expect to learn more as more research is done. The blood clots found in the six women who had received the vaccine were one in less than 1 million.

All six clots are known as cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, or clots in the brain. According to Business Insider, all six patients showed low levels of platelets in their blood, which is a contributing factor to blood clots.

To decrease panic and skepticism, many people online have been comparing the rates of this anomaly to the rates of blood clots caused by birth control. The odds of that look more like one in 100 than one in 1 million, so people looked to promote the narrative that we have normalized a much riskier health product for decades.

Business Insider notes that these are very different types of clots. Taking hormonal birth control can be linked to developing deep vein thrombosis, a clot usually in the leg. Looking at my case, it is almost certain I am among the one in 100 after taking no stops on a five hour drive. And yet, I can’t stop wondering.

I keep questioning if, in months or years, I’ll hear that the first wave of J&J vaccines was associated with coagulation of the blood in more than CVST. Until then, I won’t draw any conclusions, and I certainly won’t discourage anyone from getting vaccinated. 

As many internet users have pointed out though, this may be the catalyst for pharmaceutical scientists to reexamine the hormonal birth controls we prescribe without a second thought. The risk list included in the folded up papers attached to a prescription goes on and on. So a valid question is being asked: why do we halt the distribution of a vaccine entirely for statistically insignificant anomalies, but not the pill for more common risks?

The answer might be that people are looking for a reason to justify their vaccine skepticism, as thus far there’s been almost no proof to validate it. In my opinion, these cases are still not a reason to not receive a vaccine and help push our way towards herd immunity.

Perhaps it is also because hormonal birth control is only prescribed to people who menstruate, therefore the whole of society cannot hold the fear of side effects. It only affects a community that has long been silenced in our concerns about reproductive health.

Everyone’s health is different. If you have low platelets, maybe stick to Pfizer or Moderna. If you’re just looking for a reason to avoid the vaccine, I’m going to encourage you to put these numbers in context and schedule your shot.