On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration announced their decision to temporarily pause the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine. Out of 6.8 million Johnson & Johnson shots, six women in the U.S. developed a rare blood-clotting disorder after receiving the single-dose vaccine.
The swift action to pause the life-saving vaccine out of "an abundance of caution" has prompted a major dialogue on social media: What about blood clots and birth control?
First, here are some facts about blood clots, birth control and pregnancy.
When it comes to hormonal birth control, the estrogen combination in certain methods increases the risk of a blood clot usually in the leg (deep vein thrombosis, or DVT) or a blood clot in the lung (pulmonary embolism, or PE). According to Michigan Medicine, a blood clot in a leg vein can travel through the circulatory system and cause PE.
While the overall risk for DVT or PE is low with hormonal contraceptives, birth control that contains a higher dose of estrogen can increase the risk of both.
- Combination hormonal birth control pills that contain desogestrel progestin (found in pills like YAZ or Yasmin) increases the risk of blood clots more than birth control pills that contain other types of progestin.
- The birth control patch typically delivers more estrogen than birth control pills do, and the FDA even warns that those who use the patch have an increased risk of getting dangerous blood clots in the legs.
- In 2012, the FDA posted data showing that if 10,000 women using birth control pills were followed for one year, 3 to 9 would develop a blood clot.
For pregnant women, the risk for DVT and PE is even higher. The CDC says pregnant people are at higher risk for a blood clot during pregnancy, childbirth and up to 3-months after delivering a baby. "Women who are pregnant are five times more likely to experience a blood clot than women who are not pregnant," the CDC site reads.
Here's why the Johnson & Johnson blood-clotting issue is different.
The blood clots that result from birth control and pregnancy aren't the same as the blood clots that occurred in the six women post-vaccine.
"It's also important to note that the clotting syndrome reported with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is different from the type of blood clotting seen with birth control. Blood clots complicating birth control are rare and can be treated with anticoagulants," Dr. Jen Villavicencio, a fellow with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, told U.S. News and World Report.
The blood clot issue connected to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, which occurs in the brain. It also differs in the way it can be treated because it's more rare and does not respond to an anticoagulant.
That being said, the risk of blood clots from COVID-19 itself is very high. About one in 20 people have been hospitalized for blood clots stemming from the virus.
Pausing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as a precautionary measure is important, no question. But many social media users are wondering why the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been paused after six people experienced dangerous side effects when the blood clot risk for hormonal birth control are much, much higher.
The big question for many people seems to be, "Why can't we reduce the blood clot risk for medicine like birth control?"
So the odds of getting a blood clot from the J&J vaccine are literally one in a million and they stopped administer… https://t.co/HufgH5hSyX
— Geraldine (@everywhereist)
If you search Twitter for birth control right now, you'll witness SO MANY women raging about how no one has ever ca… https://t.co/dTzgl3cRSZ
— Apoorva Mandavilli (@apoorva_nyc)
@apoorva_nyc And pregnancy.
@serenawilliams nearly died from a pregnancy-related clot.
They are not new. They ar… https://t.co/aGzRiQzDhu
— Dr. Nina L. Shapiro (@drninashapiro)
Something that shouldn't get lost in this discussion: No one is being dismissive of blood clots or the people who suffered from them after the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. But rather that medicine and medical conditions that primarily affect women, like birth control and pregnancy, could also benefit from government action for overall improvement and to lessen health risks.
I’m not saying J&J vaccines shouldn’t be paused to address the blood clot issue but I would like to know why a much… https://t.co/iBkpGbH7Q5
— Dr. Mia Brett (@QueenMab87)
The birth control pill and other FDA-approved methods of hormonal birth control are generally considered to be a safe, effective way for most women to prevent pregnancy. Approximately 17 percent of Americans of childbearing age take some form of it, according to the CDC.
Blood clots aren't the only side effect of hormonal birth control, however. While side effects are an expected component of taking medicine, countless people have experienced some form of negative side effects from birth control.
It's devastating that anyone suffers from serious side effects like blood clots after any medication, including the COVID vaccine. The fact that government agencies are paying close attention to any side effects and risks of the COVID vaccines is extremely important.
Misogyny in medicine is nothing new; as evidenced by the fact that there is currently no government-approved male contraceptive pill or gel prioritized in the pharmaceutical industry. Clinical studies have been delayed or shelved entirely when men began experiencing some common side effects of contraception, like depression, acne and weight gain. The birth control pill has been available to women since 1960, and the formula behind it hasn't changed or improved much since.
The news of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine pause simply has many people wondering when the government will show related dedication to improving other medications with potentially dangerous side effects, like blood clots, that so many people rely on every single day.