Editor's note: Produced in conjunction with the Latino Communities Reporting Lab. A free Spanish translation is available at Myrecordjournal.com/latino-news.
Side effects from COVID-19 vaccines are relatively mild, and serious ones remain extremely rare, according to medical experts.
The current pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that commanded headlines dealt a setback for public health officials trying to overcome vaccine hesitancy.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged states and providers to halt use of the J&J shot and health officials now face the challenge of building back confidence in all vaccines. According to recent reports, six women aged 18 to 48 suffered severe blood clots within 13 days of receiving the J&J shot out of nearly 7 million in total.
“It’s extremely reassuring that we picked up six events in 6.85 million doses,” said Dr. James Cardon, chief clinical integration officer for Hartford HealthCare, “with enough sensitivity to find those six events, to call them out and say hit the pause button tells me we are focused on the very high bar of trying to make sure that when we’re vaccinating somebody that it’s safe.”
There are nine potential side effects among all three authorized vaccines that are considered typical: Injection site pain, swelling or redness, muscle or joint pain, generally feeling unwell, fatigue, fever or chills, swollen lymph nodes, headaches, nausea or vomiting. People have also reported rashes on the face, arms and body.
“Side effects are possible when getting any vaccine,” said Alexandra Edmonson, a family nurse practitioner at Community Health Center in Meriden. “They can be local, like arm soreness and swelling, or they can be systemic, and affect your whole body like fever, chills and muscle aches.”
Health experts said the side effects are a sign that the vaccine is teaching the body to respond to the presence of COVID-19, or its variants. The side effects generally only last two to three days and vary in severity and duration.
There’s a small chance the vaccine could cause a severe allergic reaction, usually within a few minutes to an hour after vaccination. Also known as anaphylaxis, sufferers can experience difficulty breathing, swelling of the face or throat, a fast heartbeat, a rash, dizziness or weakness.
The most common side effect is soreness at the injection site, similar to a diphtheria and tetanus (DPT) shot, that leaves the arm — or the thigh in babies — tender for several days.
More than 73 percent of people who got the first dose of the Pfizer BioNTech or Moderna shot experienced soreness at injection site. And all nine side effects, particularly fatigue, increase significantly after the first dose, Edmonson said. Many people report no side effects.
“It varies from person to person,” Edmonson said.
Any pain and discomfort can be treated with Tylenol two times a day, she said. Moderna and Pfizer vaccines and potential side effects are being tested in children ages 12 to 15.
Reported side effects from the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are similar and some people with allergies have found the Johnson & Johnson shot to be more tolerable.
But the Food and Drug Administration will investigate the clotting cases, and continue the pause of the J&J vaccine out of an abundance of caution, and ensure the health providers are aware of the potential for these blood clots and plan for proper treatments.
State public health officials said there have been no instances of the clots in Connecticut out of 100,000 doses.
Some governors and elected officials did not criticize the need to study the J&J vaccine, but the agencies’ decision to pause its use .
But the state and health care officials followed the federal guidance, while recognizing the cost in vaccine acceptance and trust. Lawmakers and public health officials are now turning up the heat on campaigns to convince the public that the benefits of getting vaccinated exceed the risks.
”We’ve lost 7,000 people to COVID-19,” said Gov. Ned Lamont. “We haven’t lost anyone to the side effects.
Members of the health care community said that the discovery and pause doesn’t mean the public health or scientific community can’t be trusted, but that the pause signals the opposite.
“There is a little bit of skepticism out there,” said Dr. Ulysses Wu, head of infectious diseases at Hartford HealthCare. “There is a belief we’re flying by the seat of our pants. There is a reason all the safety measures are in place. The hiccups were expected. This virus continues to evolve.”