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Local doctors note that Johnson & Johnson vaccine is quite safe, but urge patients to watch for signs of blood clot

While it’s certain that some doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine were distributed on Kodiak, no one is quite sure how many. The Kodiak Island Ambulatory Care Clinic confirmed that they had distributed about 25 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and the local Safeway confirmed that their pharmacy had distributed doses of the vaccine as well but would not specify how many.

The Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center and the Kodiak Area Native Association did not respond in time for this story as to whether or not they had received or distributed the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. That leaves the best estimate for how many people received that vaccine in Kodiak at “more than 25.”

A Coast Guard spokesperson confirmed that the Air Station Kodiak clinic did not distribute doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, and that the vaccination helicopter missions to the Kodiak Island villages did not include Johnson & Johnson doses. With that said, Coast Guard members were allowed to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine from local clinics, and some apparently did although the exact number was not known to the Coast Guard.

According to the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was administered to about 6.8 million people around the United States. Reportedly, six people who received the vaccine developed severe blood clots six to thirteen days after receiving their dose, which prompted both the CDC and FDA to issue a recommendation that distributors pause the rollout of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine while the blood-clot cases are being investigated.

Fortunately for Kodiak residents who got the vaccine, a less than one in a million chance of developing a blood clot is not particularly high risk. Dr. Shana Theobald of the Kodiak Island Ambulatory Care Clinic walked KMXT through the risks of the vaccine, as well as the signs and symptoms those who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should look out for.

“The symptoms are basically a blood clots, so a headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath, within three weeks after vaccination, if anyone is having those symptoms, they should contact their health, the healthcare provider. And if they’re severe, they should go to the emergency room,” Theobald said.

According to Theobald, the primary side effects for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are similar to the other COVID-19 vaccines; headache, tiredness, maybe a light fever… and of course, resistance to the COVID-19 virus.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a traditional DNA vaccine, like the regular flu shot and unlike the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna MRNA vaccines. One of its primary advantages is that it only requires one dose to achieve effectiveness in three weeks, as opposed to the two doses needed in the MRNA vaccines.

Theobald says that people should be in the clear, generally speaking, after that three-week period. None of the reported blood clots were reported past 13 days after receiving their dose.

“They should be in the clear at that point. Keep, you know, out of again, the common phrase an abundance of caution, continue to monitor for symptoms, and if you know anyone is having any of these side effects, even if it’s three and a half or four weeks out, still contact their health care provider,” Theobald said.

Theobald also says that in the face of the risks, she would personally still be willing to brave the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“The risk is extremely low. But to be honest, I would still get the Johnson & Johnson if it was the only one available. Fortunately, we don’t have to make that choice here in Kodiak,” Theobald said.

While the blood clotting cases are being investigated, Kodiak residents will at least be able to enjoy the high availability of other vaccines. It remains to be seen how the stoppage of Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses will affect vaccine availability in other parts of Alaska and in the lower 48.

Dr. Shana Theobald holds up a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Dr. Shana Theobald holds up a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.