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Doctor on J&J vaccine: ‘You have a much higher risk of getting a blood clot if you smoke’

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Dr. Elizabeth Clayborne, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and Emergency Physician at UM Prince George’s Hospital Center, joins Yahoo Finance’s Kristin Myers and Alexis Christoforous to discuss the latest on the coronavirus.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: Let's turn now to the coronavirus pandemic. According to the CDC, more than half of all adults in the United States have received at least one coronavirus vaccine. And the United States is likely to resume use of that Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which had been paused. Let's chat about this more now with Dr. Elizabeth Claiborne. She's an adjunct assistant professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and an emergency physician at UM Prince George's Hospital Center. Great to have you here with us, doctor.

So I want to start with the good news that more than half of all American adults have at least been vaccinated with one coronavirus vaccine dose. It is not even yet May. When do you think we might reach that herd immunity that everyone has been talking about?

ELIZABETH CLAYBORNE: Well, I, like many of the front line physicians, are so happy with the progress we've made with vaccination efforts so far. And indeed, we are making significant progress. And we hope by the end of this summer, that the majority of Americans will be fully vaccinated. And there is a possibility that we might get close to that herd immunity that we're talking about.

This is a race against time, though. We are battling against still increasing numbers of infections that we're seeing in several states. And so, while I'm pleased with the progress, I am cautiously optimistic because people still need to be careful while we roll out these vaccination efforts and certainly make sure that they're being vigilant with their social distancing and mask wearing until they receive their vaccine, and even after.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Speaking of receiving the vaccine, doctor, we're hearing from Dr. Fauci that we could have that J&J vaccine back in circulation later this week, perhaps early next week. The CDC is supposed to give some guidance on Friday. And it may hit the market again with some warnings and restrictions. What's that going to mean for the vaccine? And do you think that the public is going to feel comfortable going and getting that J&J vaccine, knowing some of the issues that it's caused?

ELIZABETH CLAYBORNE: Yeah, I'm glad that you're bringing this up. You know, I was actually very happy to hear that the CDC and FDA took these very small number of adverse outcomes with blood clots that they saw in six individuals after over 6.8 million were vaccinated with the J&J vaccine. That is a negligible number. That is a very small number. You have a much higher risk of getting a blood clot if you smoke or if you take birth control and certainly if you get COVID-19. We have seen clotting in up to 15 plus of people who get COVID-19.

But the fact that they took these side effects and adverse outcomes seriously and did a pause is reassuring that the system works and that the government is being transparent when it comes to the vaccination rollout and being very cautious. So I am looking forward to seeing what the outcome is going to be. I do expect it to be reintroduced. And they may place restrictions on the type of people who are at particularly higher risk for getting blood clots and maybe not recommending that they get this particular vaccination.

But I do think it would be great to have the J&J vaccine in our armory against COVID-19 because it is a one-time shot that can be more easily stored and is important to reach communities that may not have the facilities or infrastructure needed to do the other two-dose regimen with the mRNA vaccines.

KRISTIN MYERS: So, doctor, we've heard of some of the symptoms that folks can expect or could potentially get after receiving the coronavirus vaccine-- soreness at the injection site, tiredness, for example. But what symptoms should folks be on the lookout for that might be essentially signaling that something more serious is going on? What are the symptoms if you do have a blood clot, if you do go get that J&J vaccine?

ELIZABETH CLAYBORNE: Sure. So, you know, most people can expect to have a mild headache, muscle aches, potentially a fever, a general feeling of kind of fatigue or being run down. But a more serious side effect, especially one related to blood clots, would be an intense headache that does not respond to Tylenol or ibuprofen, any kind of neurologic deficit that would be similar to a stroke, shortness of breath, severe chest pain, or leg swelling. These are things that you-- should prompt you to reach out to a physician, to at least call and see if you need to be seen in emergency department. And then you can see a doctor like me who could evaluate you for a more serious side effect.

But I do find that the-- I have not seen any patients that have had these types of symptoms. The majority of people that I've seen that show up with concerns related to post-vaccination side effects have been in the category of just normal aches and pains, where we do a short observation and usually send them home.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Doctor, I know that this is quite disturbing because even though vaccines are ramping up quite nicely in this country, despite even the setback with the J&J vaccine, we're seeing in other parts of the world, perhaps in poorer countries, the vaccine rollout not ramping up the way it should be. And in fact, more people were diagnosed with COVID-19 during the past seven days than any week since the start of the pandemic. So what does that do for us globally when we're talking about herd immunity? I mean, can the US really move forward when there are pockets of the world that aren't moving as quickly?

ELIZABETH CLAYBORNE: Absolutely. That's an excellent point. You have to remember that everyone is racing against the clock, even if we get to that elusive herd immunity, which we're hoping to reach in the United States in, hopefully, the summer months, that does not mean that the rest of the world is anywhere close to reaching herd immunity. And in those environments where the vaccine is not being rolled out, because they don't have as many resources as efficiently as we do here in the United States, there is a possibility that a new variant could arise that has some penetration against these vaccines. And then that could be reintroduced here into the United States and put everyone who is vaccinated or not vaccinated at risk.

So although we in the United States are very focused on what we're doing for our own population, we very much live in a global community. And as a world, we need to do better making sure that everyone is going to get the vaccine and as quickly as possible to protect us from future variants and outbreaks of infection that could potentially halt our or hold up our vaccination efforts in controlling COVID-19.

KRISTIN MYERS: All right, Dr. Elizabeth Clayborne, University of Maryland School of Medicine, thanks so much for joining us today.