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J&J Q&A: What you need to know about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine pause

With just six known instances of severe reactions among nearly 7 million J&J recipients nationwide, it’s quite literally been a one-in-million shot for negative outcomes so far. No issues have been reported in Illinois.

The use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been suspended.
The use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been suspended.
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Local agencies in Chicago and Illinois are following a federal directive to pause giving shots with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine following “extremely rare” reports of blood clots in a handful of recipients.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are investigating six cases involving vaccinated women from outside Illinois who developed blood clots — called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis — in combination with low levels of blood platelets.

With just six known instances of severe reactions among nearly 7 million J&J recipients nationwide, it’s quite literally been a one-in-million shot for negative outcomes so far. More than 290,000 Illinoisans have received the vaccine without any problems.

That’s why public health officials say there’s no cause for alarm as experts try to determine if those rare reactions were even tied to the J&J vaccine at all. Here’s what you need to know while it’s on hold:

Q.: I’ve already gotten the J&J shot. What should I do?

A.: It depends on when you received it. For those who got the J&J jab a month ago or longer, the risk of developing these rare blood clots is very low, according to Dr. Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s principal deputy director.

Those who received the vaccine within the past three weeks should monitor for symptoms such as severe headaches, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness or breath. People who develop such symptoms should seek medical treatment.

“You should not be severely worried at all if you got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Again, this is very, very rare and there’s nothing that you need to do differently,” said Dr. Allison Arwady of the Chicago Department of Public Health.

Q.: I got the J&J shot within the last 48 hours and I have a headache, fever and a sore arm. What should I do?

A.: Rest at home unless you’re feeling severe pain, in which case you should seek medical attention. Common flu-like side effects are not a concern. They should be expected within 48 hours of receiving any COVID-19 vaccine and can last for about a day.

With J&J, officials are more concerned about severe symptoms that might surface up to three weeks post-vaccine. Experts say you’d notice the difference.

“This is different than the short-term reactions that we will see in the 24 to 48 hours right after they get vaccinated,” Arwady said. “This is more if you were to see a severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain or just other concerning symptoms ... but these are the things that we would want people to seek medical care for anyway.”

Q.: I got the J&J shot and I feel fine. Am I still protected from COVID-19?

A.: Yes. Federal officials have not raised any doubt that the J&J vaccine is still at least 66% effective in preventing COVID-19 and virtually 100% effective at preventing serious cases that require hospitalization.

Q.: I received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. Should I be worried?

A.: No. More than 180 million Pfizer and Moderna doses have been administered nationwide, and there have been no reports of clots or any other severe side effects such as the ones very rarely associated with the J&J shot.

Q.: I was scheduled to receive the J&J vaccine. Now what?

A.: Contact your vaccine provider if they haven’t already reached out to you. About 13,000 Chicago appointments had to be rescheduled this week, and even more will have to be moved around statewide.

The state Department of Public Health said the pause “will not have a large impact on state vaccination efforts,” since J&J doses account for only 8% of the total shots allocated to Illinois so far by the federal government.

Officials say they’re working on redirecting Pfizer and Moderna doses to providers that were initially slated to administer J&J, but many appointments will be canceled until the situation is sorted.

Q.: How long will the J&J vaccine be suspended?

A.: It’s unclear. Federal officials said the investigation would be a “matter of days,” but more information is expected to be released when a CDC vaccine advisory committee meets Wednesday.

Contributing: USA Today and the Associated Press