Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

What to know about the pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Jonathan Wolfe


Credit…The New York Times

What is the link between the vaccines and the blood clots?

It’s not clear how much the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is involved in these cases — if at all. The reason that the federal agencies are recommending a pause is that all six of these people got a particular kind of blood clot, and that’s unusual. But you have to bear in mind that every day, thousands of people get blood clots for lots of different reasons. So they have to do more research to figure out if the vaccines are actually causing these very rare blood clots. And if so, why is it that only six people that we know of out of almost seven million people got it?

In the world of vaccines, are figures like that — six out of seven million — unusual?

It’s just too soon to say that this vaccine raises your risk, even slightly, of blood clots. If there is a risk, it’s so incredibly small it’s almost impossible for us to imagine. To give you a little context, the risk of getting struck by lightning in a given year is one in 500,000. So people should be careful about getting hit by lightning, but we don’t go outside thinking, “Today is the day I’m going to die of lightning strikes.”

How should we understand the pause?

The Food and Drug Administration explained today that they are pausing this vaccine out of an abundance of caution so that they can spend some time understanding what is going on. And they foresee that it won’t take more than a few days to finish the investigation.

That said, people don’t normally pay really, really close attention to vaccine trials and vaccine rollout. But right now the whole world is paying very close attention to these vaccines. So the idea of a pause might seem alarming and unprecedented, but in fact, pauses happen all the time, both in trials and in rollouts of medical products.

What should people who have gotten the Johnson & Johnson vaccine do?

They should bear in mind that we don’t know yet if the vaccines are associated with this rare clot. If they are associated with the clot, the odds are incredibly small that they will experience it.

And there are things you can do to be careful. Two or three weeks after the vaccine, if you start experiencing severe headaches or leg pains, you should let your doctor know right away. Or go to the E.R. if you’re really feeling terrible and let them know that you’ve gotten the shot. But you don’t need to worry about having a headache and flulike symptoms in the first few days after getting the shot. Lots of people get that — it’s really common and it’s completely harmless.

More on Johnson & Johnson:

Virus cases are once again ticking up in the United States. In the past two weeks, new cases have jumped about 11 percent, even though vaccinations picked up considerably to about 3.2 million doses per day.

But the latest surge is landing unevenly. The country can essentially be divided into two groups: the 23 states that have averaged 15 new cases a day or fewer for every 100,000 people, and the 27 states above that number that have been trending in the wrong direction.

Cases are rising the fastest in the Northeast and Midwest. Michigan has the highest surge of all, reporting the most drastic increase in cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks. Illinois, Minnesota and others have also reported worrisome increases.

In the South, things look better, even though some southern states like Alabama and Mississippi are lagging in vaccinations. Experts are unsure what explains the split. Some point to warmer weather in the Sun Belt, which would allow people to gather outdoors, with less risk of transmission, while others say decreased testing there could be hiding the virus’s true footprint.

The spread in New York City. New data provides a close look at how more contagious variants have taken hold across the city and kept New York’s case levels alarmingly high.

  • Japan has begun vaccinating 36 million people over age 65, the first time shots have been made available to the public during the country’s slow vaccine rollout.

  • Britain is now offering vaccinations to everyone in the country age 45 and older.

  • Three virus patients died at a hospital in Romania after the oxygen supply malfunctioned. It was the latest incident involving oxygen failure, which has driven up the virus death toll in many countries.

  • The World Health Organization called on governments to suspend the sale of live wild mammals in food markets to help prevent the emergence of new diseases.

  • Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government in Germany moved a step closer to securing the right to force restrictions on areas where the virus is spreading rapidly, overriding state leaders reluctant to take action.

  • Some female scientists, who felt unsupported in their fields even before the pandemic, are now hitting a breaking point.

  • In the 1950s people celebrated the polio vaccine by hugging in the streets and ringing church bells across America. The New Yorker explores how our vaccine moment is “both more extraordinary and more complicated.”

  • ArcLight Cinemas, a beloved chain of movie theaters based in Los Angeles, will permanently close all its locations after the pandemic decimated the cinema business.

I thought being vaccinated would end most of my woes. I was wrong. I am still gripped with fear most days and find it hard to convince myself otherwise. My immediate family consists of myself, my 84-year-old mother and my oldest son (who has Asperger’s syndrome.) All three of us are fully vaccinated. I worry now about the variants. The ever diligent, fearful thought process and actions I’ve lived with for over a year are hard patterns to break. I always thought I was brave, resilient and in control. I don’t think that anymore.

— Sharon Smith, Columbus, Ga.

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Jonathan Wolfe