Healthcare & Pharmaceuticals

More likely to be struck by lightning? Americans weigh risk of J&J vaccine

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WASHINGTON/NEW ORLEANS, April 13 (Reuters) - Henna Ramchandani walked out of her vaccine appointment at a Washington D.C. convention center on Tuesday morning, thrilled she had decided just one day earlier to get the Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) COVID-19 vaccine instead of the Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) shot, initially her first choice.

Hours earlier, U.S. federal health agencies had recommended pausing the use of Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose COVID-19 vaccine for at least a few days after six women under age 50 developed rare blood clots after receiving the shot. read more

"I originally wanted that one because it was one and done, and I’m super scared of shots," said the 26-year-old Ramchandani. "But I couldn't imagine having it now."

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A block away, Kenneth Robinson, a 69-year-old transportation services employee, was directing people to their appointments at the convention center. He got the J&J shot last month and shrugged when he heard that safety concerns had stalled its use. He felt fine, and was grateful for the immunity.

"It's too late now!" he said cheerfully.

After the abrupt action by health officials, which forced some U.S. vaccine sites to cancel appointments or pivot to administering alternative COVID-19 vaccines, Americans' reactions ranged from frustration over losing access to the one-shot option to fear they might get the rare blood clots.

"Honestly, I still would have taken it today," said Cole Parsons, a 40-year-old hotel executive who was scheduled to get vaccinated with the J&J shot in New Orleans on Tuesday, before the site suddenly had to switch to giving Moderna (MRNA.O) and Pfizer (PFE.N) vaccines instead.

Only 6 people out of some 7 million Americans who had received the J&J shot experienced the rare brain blood clots.

"Chances are greater [I get] attacked by an alligator in the swamp or, you know, hit by lightning than I am to have a reaction from that," he said.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are about 1-in-500,000.

Vaccine experts say that even if the blood clotting cases are linked to the J&J shot, the risk is extremely small when weighed against protection from the potential ravages of COVID-19. The FDA said the pause will give the agency time to inform doctors about how to identify and treat the clotting condition.

Taka Katakayama, a 39-year-old production coordinator, was due to get the J&J shot on Tuesday at the Javits Center in New York City, but ended up getting Pfizer.

Katakayama had wanted the J&J vaccine rather than a two-dose shot because "I just wanted to get it done," he said. Instead, he was left worrying about his wife who had gotten the J&J shot a few days earlier.

"I'm just hoping that nothing bad is going to happen to her," he said.

The CDC said the decision to pause the J&J vaccine rollout was made "out of an abundance of caution."

Lindsey Weller, a 34-year-old freelance actor and model, said she danced in line as she waited for a J&J shot in Hagerstown, Maryland last week, much to the amusement of the site's workers. Tuesday's news had not diminished the thrill.

"I actually feel good about it," she said. "I'm hoping this won't be a setback to people getting vaccinated."

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Reporting by Gabriella Borter, Catherine Koppel, Dan Fastenberg and Carl O'Donnell; Editing by Peter Henderson and Bill Berkrot

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