Why the CDC says NC is safe to use J&J COVID-19 vaccine after severe reactions

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The CDC tracks severe reactions to COVID-19 through its Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. So far, there are close to 1,300 reports of severe reactions from the vaccines statewide.

While Wake County and UNC Health put a pause to Johnson and Johnson vaccinations after more than a dozen bad reactions, the CDC said the vaccines are still safe to use.

“There are side effects to the vaccine, that’s true. They stimulate our immune system. That’s how they work,” said Dr. Cameron Wolfe, an infectious disease expert at Duke Health.

Big or small reactions are expected as people continue to get their COVID-19 vaccine.

In it’s clinical trial, more than half of Johnson and Johnson vaccine recipients experienced side effects. Only two percent were considered severe. Those reactions were most often seen in the 18 to 59 age group.

“Typically for a number of vaccines, these reactions occur a little more frequently in younger adults who just seem to respond a little more vigorously,” said Wolfe.

Looking at real-world vaccinations, 200 people statewide reported serious side effects with the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. They account for less than 1 percent of all Johnson and Johnson recipients in the state.

The reactions are found in other common vaccines as well:

  • TDAP: 1,383 reports
  • TD: 629 reports
  • One version of the flu shot, flu3: 2,616 reports
  • One version of the HPV, hpv: 756 reports
  • One version of the pneumonia vaccine, PPV: 1,569 reports

“Some of these signals appear to come in as more common but when you actually step back and recognize that we’re vaccinating so quickly to try to get our community protected, that the rate is no different than most other vaccines,” Wolfe said.

Reactions like passing out, vomiting, and tremors happened but they’re very rare- making up less than a percentage of all reports.

“In fact when we look at the data, it’s exactly what we anticipated so these are, the message is these are still safe”

No deaths are associated with any COVID-19 vaccine.

Johnson and Johnson got the most attention this week but it has the lowest reports of adverse reactions.

Of all people who bad enough to go to the emergency room, here is the breakdown for those vaccines:

  • Johnson and Johnson: 3 percent
  • Moderna: 33 percent
  • Pfizer: 63 percent

“Serious side effects are exceptionally rare here and that’s the key point,” said Wolfe. He added, “I think this is something that should encourage us to push on knowing that we’re looking very carefully at how people are responding.

Wolfe said people getting vaccines should advise staff if they’ve had trouble with vaccines in the past or are queasy when it comes to blood and needles. The information should in no way deter you from getting a vaccine.

“If you’re nearest vaccine station is offering J and J or Moderna or whichever, I don’t truthfully mind. I recommend to all my patients, whichever one they have the easiest access to is the right choice for them,” Wolfe said.

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