Johnson & Johnson returned to the spotlight this morning, April 13, when federal authorities recommended a pause in distribution of the vaccine owing to "extremely rare" blood clots that have impacted six of the 6.8 million people who've been inoculated with the medication in the U.S. to date.
There's no word thus far whether this edict will result in another closure of the Dick's vaccination site, which reopened to the public on April 11. But the assorted developments could lead to vaccine hesitancy — and among those who doesn't want that to happen is a local man we're calling Joe; he asks that his real name not be used for fear of becoming an online target.
Joe was one of the two people hospitalized after getting a shot at Dick's on the April 7, but not because of anything related to the vaccine, blood clots included. For medical reasons, he occasionally loses consciousness — and even though he warned personnel at the site that something along those lines could happen, they rushed him to a nearby hospital anyhow.
"They were really worried about side effects," Joe says. "Probably too worried."
He arrived at Dick's at around 11 a.m. and initially, "the whole thing went fairly smoothly," he recalls. "They checked my phone to make sure I had an appointment. But then I told the guy about my condition."
His condition is vasovagal syncope. According to the Mayo Clinic, it "occurs when you faint because your body overreacts to certain triggers, such as the sight of blood or extreme emotional distress.... The vasovagal syncope trigger causes your heart rate and blood pressure to drop suddenly. That leads to reduced blood flow to your brain, causing you to briefly lose consciousness." However, the clinic's description stresses that "vasovagal syncope is usually harmless and requires no treatment."
After he told the staffer about his vasovagal syncope, Joe remembers, "He looked at me a bit weird — like, 'What?' Then he gave me the shot and said, 'Okay, you're done.' And I said, 'I'm passing out.' And I did." He only recalls doing so once, but he was later told that he fainted for a few seconds before awakening and dropping off a second time.
To prevent such an episode, Joe usually makes sure he's consumed plenty of liquids, but in retrospect, he thinks that after sitting in a hot car in the venue's parking lot for a while, he may not have been as hydrated as he could have been. Still, when he came to, he tried to reassure the personnel gathered around him that everything would be fine.
This message didn't land as he'd hoped. "They were freaking out," he says. "They really wanted to get me into an ambulance, so put me on a stretcher and loaded me in — and the EMT said, 'Oh, you have a really low heart rate. You need to go to the hospital.' And I said, 'I'm pretty sure I'm fine.' But they wanted me to go to the hospital, and after I got there, they hooked up an EKG and said, 'There's nothing wrong with your heart. You're all good.'"
Upon his return home, Joe started seeing media reports about vaccinations at Dick's being paused: "When I saw they'd canceled early because two people went to the hospital, I thought, 'Crap, I'm one of those two people — and my side effects were unrelated to the vaccine.'"
That's the message Joe wants everyone to hear: "People shouldn't be avoiding getting vaccinated because they think they'll get hospitalized like me. It's not going to happen."
Especially with Johnson & Johnson's vaccine being given a time-out.