Woman in a mask holding up a syringe.

Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Rollout Paused Due to 1 in 1 Million Chance of Blood Clots

For comparison, birth control has a 1 in 1,000 chance of blood clots.
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America’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout has hit a speedbump amid recommendations to pause the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the US Food and Drug Administration made the recommendation after six reported US cases of a “rare and severe” type of blood clot. But before you start panicking, these are 6 cases among over 6.8 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine administered in the United States. That’s roughly a one in a million chance of severe blood clots from the vaccine.

So far, all six cases occurred in women between 18-48, with symptoms appearing 1-2 weeks after injection. In a joint statement, the CDC and the FDA said, “Until that process is complete, we are recommending a pause in the use of this vaccine out of an abundance of caution.”

Dr. Carlos del Rio, executive associate dean of the Emory University School of Medicine at Grady Health System, told CNN, “It’s a very rare event. You’re talking about 1 per million, and when you give millions of doses of vaccines, you will see events like this that you couldn’t see in the clinical trial just because you didn’t have millions of people enrolled.”

The F.D.A. recommends that people who have received the J & J vaccine within the past three weeks should contact their doctors if they experience severe headaches, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath.

The pause in the vaccine rollout is understandable, and all precautions should obviously be taken. But many women and birth control users are taking to social media to point out that birth control has blood clotting rates of 1 in 1,000, yet no one seems concerned or surprised.

And blood clotting is only one of many side effects caused by birth control, which include headaches, weight gain or loss, nausea, sore breasts, spotting, changes in menstruation, and more. Other more severe (but much less common) side effects include blood clots, heart attack, stroke, angina, migraines, high blood pressure, liver tumors, and death.

Of course, tens of millions of people take birth control for decades now, and it is universally considered to be a very safe drug. But because it’s a drug made for women, there has been less research and funding devoted to studying the adverse effects of various forms of birth control. Add to that a medical bias that doesn’t take women’s pain seriously, and you get a clearer picture of how this country continually disregards women’s health. And of course, this callous treatment is exacerbated in BIPOC women and gender-nonconforming individuals.

And who has time to further investigate these side effects when Republicans are constantly trying to restrict access to birth control, close down Planned Parenthood clinics, and allowing right-wing businesses to deny this lifesaving healthcare coverage because of “religious freedoms”? The fundamentalist fervor over birth control only makes everything more difficult for folks who need this lifesaving drug.

We’ll have to wait and see what happens with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. In the meantime, birth control access and education continues to be a deeply frustrating obstacle course for the folks who need it.

(via CNN, featured image: ROBERT ATANASOVSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

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Chelsea Steiner
Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.