COVID-19 vaccine

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Health officials are investigating the death of an Oregon woman and whether or not it was related to the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.

The woman’s death will be added to the evidence of potential risk associated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in an ongoing federal review of the vaccine’s safety, according to the Oregon Health Authority.

“I want to emphasize that at this time, we do not know whether the Oregon woman’s death is related to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” said Dr. Simi Sharief, an OHA public health physician, during a press conference Thursday. “Healthcare providers are required to report certain adverse events after COVID-19 vaccines in accordance with emergency use authorization for the vaccine.”

Federal agencies have been reviewing the vaccine’s safety since they paused its use April 13, following reports of six women between the ages of 18 and 48 developing a type of rare and severe blood clots.

The woman, an Oregon resident in her 50s, was the seventh Johnson & Johnson vaccine recipient to report the symptoms, Sharief said. About 7.5 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine were administered nationwide before the pause, including over 87,000 in Oregon.

Sharief stressed Thursday the death couldn’t directly be linked to the vaccine until the conclusion of the federal review, which could take another week.

A federal advisory panel, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, is set to review the evidence about the vaccine’s risk Friday, and Sharief said OHA was announcing the death publicly for transparency’s sake before the committee discussed it.

“These considerations inform the ACIP’s recommendations regarding the use of the vaccine going forward, and shows how the system for monitoring, quickly reporting and investigating these events is working,” Sharief said.

Sharief said OHA wasn’t aware of any other Oregon residents exhibiting the blood clots after receiving the shot.

The doctor declined to share almost all details about the Oregon woman’s death for privacy reasons, but said the woman received the shot prior to the pause and experienced similar symptoms to the other few cases of the blood clots.

Those common symptoms included severe headaches, shortness of breath, stroke-like symptoms and leg pain, as well as low platelets and red or brown dots on the hands and legs. The symptoms occurred within three weeks of receiving the dose, Sharief said.

Sharief said the reporting of the very small number of adverse events after the vaccines is a reason for increased confidence in the approved vaccines.

“We are very much encouraged by the fact that our safety reporting mechanisms are working, and we do acknowledge the types of risks as well as the long-term effects that COVID-19 illness can itself pose on our communities,” the doctor said. “We will also encourage everyone in Oregon to schedule an appointment for the two available COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna when appointments become available.”

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