If you received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for COVID-19, should you be worried?
The leaders of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the FDA issued a statement this morning suggesting a pause in the administration of the J&J vaccine. As they wrote:
CDC and FDA are reviewing data involving six reported U.S. cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot in individuals after receiving the J&J vaccine. In these cases, a type of blood clot called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST) was seen in combination with low levels of blood platelets (thrombocytopenia).
My wife had this vaccine. This is serious business.
But let’s examine what the risk is.
How do the risks of COVID-19 and the J&J vaccine compare?
Let’s do a little basic math.
According to the CDC, using the most recent weekly averages, here are the number of people likely to be getting positive tests for the first time, hospitalizations, and deaths from COVID over the next 12-week period.
- Cases: 769,824
- Hospitalizations: 64,032
- Deaths: 8,532
What is the base? Well, there are 328 million people in the United States. Of those, 66 million have been vaccinated. And 31 million have been diagnosed with COVID. That leaves a base of 231 million. Of course, some of them got the disease without knowing it, and there are a very small number of people who get infected again after the disease once, but basically, there are 231 million people left to infect.
That means in a 12-week period, the proportion getting infected, hospitalized, and dying of COVID are as follows:
- Getting COVID: 3,333 per million
- Hospitalizations: 277 per million
- Deaths: 37 per million
Those numbers would be higher if I extended them over more than 12 weeks, accounted for the rising number of cases, and included an estimate of the number of people who were already unknowingly infected and therefore most likely immune, but let’s call that a conservative estimate of the risk of COVID.
In comparison, what are the risks from the J&J vaccine? According to the CDC, health providers have administered 6.8 million does of the J&J vaccine, and they have recorded a total of six instances of the blood clotting reaction. No one has died, and with so few cases, you cannot be certain that the vaccine caused the reaction. But if it did, the measurable risk is 6 out of 6.8 million, or:
- Blot clot incidence for J&J vaccine recipients: 0.9 per million.
Based on the information we have now, you have a one in a million chance of getting a blood clot after receiving the J&J vaccine, compared to a risk 41 times as great of dying from COVID and a risk 300 times as great of getting a serious enough case of COVID to be hospitalized, and potentially suffering from COVID aftereffects for years.
It was worth it — and it still is
The FDA rushed these vaccines into use, much faster than usual, but there were still clinical tests of tens of thousands of people performed first that showed a negligible number of serious side effects and a high degree of vaccine effectiveness.
The vaccines — all of them — are highly effective. The number of people who get infected, hospitalized, or die of COVID after getting a vaccine is minuscule. As Dr. Anthony Fauci said, “The several deaths reported so far among people already fully vaccinated were among elderly individuals who may have had underlying health conditions and may not have mounted a strong immune response when vaccinated . . . I don’t think there needs to be any concern about any shift or change in the efficacy of the vaccine.”
I’m happy that my wife got the J&J vaccine, and is protected from the serious risk of a deadly case of COVID-19. I am not worried about the one-in-a-million chance that she could get a blood clot, just as I don’t lie awake at night wondering if she’ll get hit by a car while crossing the street or accidentally stab herself while slicing vegetables in the kitchen.
I am pleased that the government is looking closely into these cases of side effects from the J&J vaccine, and pausing its administration in the meantime. But if they decide to resume vaccine shots with J&J, I’ll trust them, because this is a very small number of potentially serious reactions.
Please, if you are eligible, get vaccinated as soon as possible. If you don’t, I’m worried about your getting sick and about your possibly infecting others. I am at least 300 times more worried about that than whether you might have a serious side effect from getting the shot. If you’re thinking rationally, that’s how you ought to think about it.