On Tuesday, U.S. federal health organizations recommended pausing the roll-out of Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot Covid-19 vaccine as they look into six reports of women between the ages 18 to 48 developing dangerous and difficult-to-treat blood clots called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, the New York Times reported. Of these six women, some of the roughly 6.8 million Americans who received the J&J jab, one woman has died as another is currently hospitalized and in critical condition. As of publication, 13 states -- New York, Washington D.C., Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Ohio, Texas, Kansas, Missouri, Georgia, and Indiana – have all temporarily yanked the vaccine, according to The Hill.
Although the jury is still out over what, if any, role the shot played in the development of these clots, (a similar story to European regulators investigating if the AstraZeneca vaccine), public health officials maintain that the protection from a Covid-19 immunization outweighs the risks of potential side effects for most people, the New York Times noted.
Yet amid this concern, several women and menstruating people began to notice a strange footnote in these blood clot fears – people taking birth control have between a 1 in 1,000 and 5 in 10,000 chance of experiencing a blood clot, according to Newsweek, figures much more significant than any potentially related to the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine. “ … Regardless of the public health debate, the CDC and FDA’s abundance of caution is also a sour reminder for advocates that the side effects of birth control have been deemed a socially acceptable risk," Vice reporter Carter Sherman wrote of this parallel.
Although the types of blood clots linked to oral contraceptives are generally easier to treat than those experienced by the six aforementioned women, this strange irony was not lost on Twitter users.
“I’m all for safety but women have been getting blood clots from birth control for decades and they haven’t tried particularly hard to modify that,” wrote @bfishbfish.
“The risk of blood clots from birth control pills is 1 in 1,000 and is considered a low-risk side effect,” wrote Rebecca Wind, who works in communications for the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice research organization. “The risk from the J&J vaccine is 1 in 1,000,000," she continued, concluding her post with the hashtag #GetVaccinated.
So why, exactly, are the risks of hormonal contraception often deemed acceptable whereas other dangers stop regulators in their tracks? According to Vox's Eliza Brooke, this arguably apathetic approach towards those experiencing dangerous and life-altering birth control side effects may play into a larger issue at hand – practitioners minimizing patient complaints. “In general, doctors have a poor reputation when it comes to believing and investigating women’s concerns,” Brooke explained in a report investigating “why isn’t birth control better?”, listing several of the terrible side effects women face in finding a contraceptive that works for them. “Health problems such as PMS, endometriosis, and complications during pregnancy and childbirth are routinely brushed off by doctors and taken less seriously than issues affecting men. This is particularly true for black women, for whom the maternal mortality rate is three to four times higher than it is for white women — even if they’re a world-famous athlete and businessperson like Serena Williams."
Now to clarify, this is not meant to slam contraceptives or to minimize the tangible safety concerns surrounding the vaccine. Even with its potential for unpleasant side effects, hormonal birth control plays an integral to many menstruating people’s well-being — including myself for several years — a critical player in not only facilitating safe sex but managing period pain and acne, alleviating the symptoms of conditions including PCOS and endometriosis, and even lowering the risk of certain cancers. Although there should undoubtedly be more research into minimizing these dangerous side effects (as well as perhaps developing a safe method of birth control for men), people who want contraception should be able to access it.
Just as the side effects of birth control are serious, any potential reactions of any medication or vaccine should be thoroughly investigated for the sake of public safety, in this case, a decision made “out of an abundance of caution,” according to Peter Marks, director of the FDA Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. Yet to put these claims in perspective, out of the nearly seven million people that have been given the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, only 6 women have experienced such side effects, meaning the chance of developing blood clots extremely rare. “This is a really rare event … It’s six out of the 6.85 million doses, which is less than one in a million,” Dr. Fauci, The director of U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said at a White House press briefing on Tuesday, per USA Today.
So how rare, exactly is a less than one in one million chance? You're more likely to be struck by lightning (a 1 in 500,000 chance, according to the CDC), be dealt a royal flush in the opening hand of a poker game (a 1 in 649,739 chance, according to PBS), or become the next Warren Buffett (1 in 785,000, per the Las Vegas Review-Journal) than experience blood clots from the single-shot vaccine. Furthermore, the odds of developing a blood clot after contracting Covid-19 “could be as high as 31% for critically ill coronavirus patients in intensive care,” USA Today noted.
Even with these incredible odds in favor of your health and wellness and overwhelming evidence pointing to the vaccine's safety and efficacy, it's still important to heed the advice of health officials, especially as these clots, albeit incredibly rare, are once again, more dangerous than those experienced by individuals taking oral contraceptives.
So folks, although the news may be scary, please, please, please, get vaccinated against Covid-19 – including Johnson & Johnson jabs once cleared. I'm ready for the roaring '20s to start.