Potential Side-Effects of Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine

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First it was the Astra-Zenica vaccine that was causing trouble. Now it is the Johnson & Johnson drug that is causing a stir.

Back in February, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. The primary intent was to control the spread of the COVID-19 disease. With the EUA, the J&J vaccine was distributed throughout the U.S. for use among individuals of age 18 and above. 

However, on April 14, 2021, a panel of experts gathered to review the potentially fatal side effects of the vaccine that was reported by six individuals. The panel has agreed further to evaluate the risk and safety of the vaccine. As a result, the CDC and FDA have recommended a temporary pause in administering the J&J vaccine for COVID-19. 

Let’s take a closer look at the side effects and what to do if you have already received the J&J vaccine.

Like any other drug, there are several side effects associated with the administration of the J&J vaccine. The common side effects can be categorized as local side effects and systemic side effects. 

The Local Side Effects 

Local side effects refer to the soreness and pain at the site of the injection. It is common for people who received the vaccine to experience pain, redness and swelling at the injection site. However, with the J&J vaccine, the local side effects were experienced two days after the vaccination. Other side effects, including pain and redness, lasted for two days on average. However, the swelling continued for another day or two. 

It is interesting to note that the onset and duration of local side effects varied greatly among people. In a few cases (less than 3% of the individuals who received the vaccine), the local side effects continued for more than a week. Moreover, less than 1% of people who received the vaccine experienced severe pain at the injection site. 

The local side effects were more common among younger adults between the ages of 18 and 59 as compared to individuals aged 60 and above. 

Systemic Side Effects 

The other category of side effects experienced by the recipient of the vaccine includes headache and flu-like symptoms, which occurred in more than half of the people who received the vaccine (around 55%). Some of the most commonly reported systemic symptoms include headache, muscle pain, fatigue. A smaller percentage of recipients of the vaccine also experienced nausea and fever. 

On average, the onset of side effects was observed two days after the vaccination, with symptoms such as fatigue, headache, and muscle ache lasting for another two days. However, other symptoms such as nausea and fever on average subsided within a day. 

Similar to the local side effects, the onset and duration of systemic side effects varied across the population. However, less than 2 percent of people who received the vaccine continued to experience the systemic side effects for more than a week. Severe systemic side effects (including fatigue, muscle pain and fever) were reported in less than 2% of the individuals who received the vaccine. 

The systemic side effects were more profound among younger adults compared to older individuals. The only exception is nausea, which was experienced by all individuals who received the vaccine regardless of age. 

The Concern 

The FDA and CDC have recommended a temporary pause in administering the J&J COVID-19 vaccine subsequent to the reports of a rare yet severe side effect reported in six recipients.  

On April 13, 2021, the CDC and FDA called for a halt in the use of the vaccine. All the severe side effects involved women between the ages of 18 and 48, and the side effect occurred between the 6th and the 13th day after receiving the dose. One of the women who experienced this severe side effect died while the other had been hospitalized. 

This potentially severe side effect resulting from the vaccine administration is the clotting of blood in the veins that drain blood from the brain. Medically, the condition is known as central venous sinus thrombosis, which can also occur without administering the vaccine and affects around five people in a million every year. However, the vaccine-associated side effect results from an immune system response that causes a clotting disorder by activating platelets that form a clot. The same side effect has been observed with the administration of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. However, it is important to note that this potentially fatal side effect is not a concern with Moderna and Pfizer vaccines for COVID-19. 

The Statistics 

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If you look at the numbers, so far, around 7 million (6.8 million to be exact) doses of the J&J vaccine have been administered throughout the country. Moreover, six cases of severe side effects have been reported. This means that around 1 in a million individuals is likely to experience the severe side effect of the vaccine. On the other hand, the medical condition caused by the vaccine administration affects around five people in a million every year. 

What to Do If You Have Received the J&J Vaccine?

Since the CDC and FDA have recommended a temporary pause in the administration of the vaccine, there is a lot of speculation and concern among individuals who have already received it. Thus, the CDC and FDA have recommended that individuals who have received the vaccine within the last three weeks should keep a check on the symptoms. If they develop severe headaches, leg pain, shortness of breath, or abdominal pain, they must immediately contact their healthcare provider.

If diagnosed well in time, this type of blood clot can be treated using blood thinners (anticoagulants). However, the treatment varies on an individual basis and only a registered medical practitioner can prescribe the required treatment.