High anxiety: Cluster of reactions to J&J vaccine attributed to apprehension

Stress over the ongoing pandemic, aversion to needles and second-hand anxiety likely account for the clusters of adverse reactions to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine reported in early April at five U.S. mass-vaccination sites, according to a new study by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

Four of the sites, including one in Georgia, temporarily halted use of the vaccine after reports of some people feeling light-headed, sweating, fainting or becoming nauseated after receiving the vaccine April 7-9. But after an investigation, CDC is terming these anxiety-related events. None of the events was classified as serious.

The Georgia Department of Public Health paused use of the J&J vaccine at a site at the Cumming Fairground after eight people who received shots there on April 7 experienced adverse reactions. One person was evaluated at a hospital and released, while the others were monitored at the site and sent home. A few days later, DPH said an investigation found the reactions were no cause for concern.

Across the five U.S. mass-vaccination sites the CDC studied, there were 64 reported events among the thousands of people who received the shots. The CDC investigation found that about a quarter of those reporting fainting or other anxiety-related events had reported a history of similar reactions after other types of vaccination.

“Because the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine is administered as a single dose, this vaccine might be a more attractive option for persons who have needle aversion,” the CDC study says, adding that the stress of the pandemic also might increase anxiety about vaccination.

In addition, though, the reactions also could have resulted from people seeing others with anxiety-induced episodes or hearing of such issues through media coverage.

However, CDC notes that findings in the report may be limited because of underreporting of reactions to the surveillance reporting system, among other factors.

Still, CDC says that those giving the vaccines should be aware of the potential for anxiety-related events and monitor people for at least 15 minutes after they receive the shots. This may be particularly important as vaccines become available for children, the research says, because half of the reports of fainting after vaccination were among those ages 18-29.

“Providers should be aware that younger persons might be more highly predisposed to anxiety-related events after vaccination than are older persons,” the report says.

The study doesn’t name the five sites with events, but data in the study matches the reports from the Cumming Fairgrounds site.

An empty Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccination vial at a pharmacy April 13.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
An empty Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccination vial at a pharmacy April 13. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

The study notes that the anxiety-related events were reported before there were reports of a rare blood clotting disorder among some who received the J&J vaccine. It also notes that the J&J vaccine wasn’t directly compared with the other two currently available COVID-19 vaccines.

On April 13, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration halted injections of the vaccine so that health authorities could look into the reports of blood clotting among some women. On April 23, the FDA recommended that use of the vaccine resume, saying that the cases were extremely rare and the vaccine’s known and potential benefits outweighed its risks. At that time, there were 15 reported cases and three deaths among the millions of people who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.