What to know about ‘pause’ in J&J vaccine

COVID-19

An illustration picture shows vials with Covid-19 Vaccine stickers attached and syringes with the logo of US pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson on November 17, 2020. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

(ABC4/WJW) — On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) called for a pause on the administration of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines in order to investigate reports of potentially dangerous blood clots.

In total, over 8.6 million doses of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been administered in the U.S. Officials say COVID-19 vaccines manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna are not affected by this investigation.

The CDC will meet on Wednesday to further review the cases. The FDA will then review that analysis during the pause. While they’re investigating blood clots, those who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are wondering: “What should I do?”

What are the symptoms?

Dr. Anne Schuchat, deputy director of the CDC, said the clotting symptoms are different from the mild, flu-like symptoms many experience in the couple of days following their vaccine. The FDA and CDC are recommending that those who have gotten this vaccine monitor themselves for three weeks after receiving the shot. If you experience any of these side effects, you are encouraged to contact your healthcare provider:

  • Severe headache
  • Abdominal pain
  • Leg pain
  • Shortness of breath

The CDC has already confirmed that some side effects from any of the currently available COVID-19 vaccines are normal—they could be signs that your body is building immunity. Common side effects include pain and swelling in the arm that got the shot, as well as fever, chills, fatigue, and even headaches.

In regards to the two-shot vaccines—Pfizer and Moderna—the CDC says that if you have an allergic reaction to the first dose, you should not receive the second. “If you are worried about anything else (like an underlying medical condition) or if you had an allergic reaction to a different vaccine, we recommend you talk with your doctor,” Jenny Johnson, Public Information Officer for the Utah Department of Health, says.

Who it affected and when

According to a joint statement, the CDC and FDA said they are investigating clots in six women that occurred in the days after vaccination. One of the women died, and one was hospitalized in critical condition.

All the women were between the ages of 18 and 48, and their symptoms occurred between six and 13 days following their vaccines. The clots were observed along with reduced platelet counts—making the usual treatment for blood clots, the blood thinner Heparin, potentially “dangerous.”

The type of blood clot is called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis. The clots occurred in veins that drain blood from the brain. This particular type of blood clot, health experts emphasize, must be treated differently than other types—with different blood thinners or antibody infusions.

CDC and FDA officials said Tuesday there is not yet any indication of a connection between the clots and the use of birth control in women who fall between the ages of 18 and 48. Officials said there is no indication that all of the six individuals affected had preexisting conditions that may have led to the clots.

Should I still get a COVID-19 vaccination?

Health officials emphasized that they “are not seeing these clotting events…with the other two vaccines,” Moderna and Pfizer. Schuchat said people who already have appointments to receive the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines should keep their appointments.

As far as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, several states are recommending the pause as well. Some vaccination clinics have already announced they will pause the distribution of the vaccines. Health officials will work with individuals who have scheduled Johnson & Johnson vaccines in the days ahead to make sure they get their vaccinations when they are available, said Schuchat.

Can I travel again after getting the vaccine?

If you have been fully vaccinated, the CDC says you can resume travel at “low risk” of getting or spreading COVID-19. Because of this, those who are fully vaccinated with either the Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson vaccine can travel safely within the U.S. without getting tested before or after travel – unless their destination requires it – and they do not need to self-quarantine.

How long will the vaccine protect me?

New research suggests the protection the Moderna vaccine gives against COVID-19 lasts for at least six months. Research on the Pfizer vaccine has found the same results. Both vaccines have only been available in the U.S. for six months.

Can I take medication before getting the vaccine?

The CDC recommends that people avoid pain medicine like Tylenol or Ibuprofen prior to getting the vaccine. The chance that over-the-counter medications will affect your immune response is unlikely, the Utah Department of Health says, but it is still not known for sure if they can impact the vaccine’s effectiveness.

Can I have alcohol after getting the COVID-19 vaccine?

There is no advice from the CDC regarding drinking alcohol before or after getting your dose. In Russia, one scientist caused a stir when she recommended Russians stop drinking alcohol two weeks before getting the vaccine, then three weeks after the second. Another Russian scientist was interviewed and recommending you don’t drink alcohol for three days after each injection, according to Forbes.

While there is no firm answer, most health officials advise against drinking alcohol because of the symptoms that may occur after you get your dose. Some side effects of getting vaccinated are similar to a hangover.

Why does the second COVID-19 vaccine dose have more side effects than the first?

It’s widely known that the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccines tends to come with more side effects than the first, including tiredness, headaches, chills, fever, nausea, and muscle pain. With the first dose, your body begins building its initial immune response, including producing antibodies.

But with the second shot — a.k.a. the second exposure to the virus — “the big guns” of your immune system react.

How long should I wait to get the vaccine after having the virus?

According to Jenny Johnson, Public Information Officer with the Utah Department of Health, people who have had COVID-19 can safely be vaccinated.

The only “rule” about being vaccinated after being infected with the virus, she says, is that people must have completed the quarantine period and be symptom-free. “There is no reason why someone should not get the vaccine after being infected,” Johnson says.

What if I already got the shot?

Schuchat said for those who have gotten their vaccines a month ago or more, the risk of developing the clots is “very low at this time.” Those who may have gotten their Johnson & Johnson shots in the last couple of weeks should monitor their symptoms. The clots have usually occurred about a week after the shots and not longer than three weeks with a median of about nine days after vaccination.

Can I donate blood after receiving the vaccine?

You can, but the American Red Cross says it is important to note which type of vaccine you got.

What if I missed my second shot?

The appointment is scheduled, and you missed getting it! What do you do now? Will you have to take two more shots? Probably not. Here’s what the Utah Department of Health says:

“You should get your second shot as close to the recommended 3-week or 1-month interval as possible. However, there is no maximum interval between the first and second doses for either vaccine. You should not get the second dose earlier than the recommended interval.”

Will the U.S. resume Johnson & Johnson vaccines?

Dr. Janet Woodcock, acting FDA commissioner, said the recommended pause on the vaccine will likely last just a matter of days.

The pause is meant “to prepare the health care system” to properly treat patients that may develop the clots and to report the severe events they may see in recipients, said Schuchat. The agencies will also revise their fact sheets on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for recipients and health care providers.

“When we saw this pattern and were aware that treatment needed to be individualized for this condition, it was of the utmost importance to us to get the word out. The pandemic is quite severe,” said Schuchat. “Vaccinations are critical, so we want to make sure we make some recommendations quickly”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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