By Annette Pinder

Understanding that many people are confused and don’t quite know what to think about reports concerning blood clots and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, University at Buffalo neurosurgeon Elad I. Levy recently answered some important questions:

What are the clots that have been associated with the J & J vaccine?

These clots occur in the veins of the brain. The clots are called venous sinus occlusions.

What symptoms should people watch out for?

It should be understood that these clots are very rare. The main symptom to watch out for is any new onset of headaches that continue to get worse over time.

Since it’s so early, investigators say it’s not clear that the vaccines caused the clots. If they didn’t cause the clots, what are other possible causes of these clots? 

People get venous sinus clots in their brains from dehydration, smoking, or underlying clotting disorders.

The clots that were associated with the AstraZeneca vaccines were different from these clots — what other kinds of clots can happen, and where in the body do they occur? 

Other kinds of clots can include deep vein thrombosis of the legs, which can break off and go to the lungs, called a pulmonary embolus. These can result from prolonged periods of sitting, such being on a long international flight or from being bedridden. Dehydration and smoking can also cause these kinds of clots.

What do the demographics tell us so far (if anything) about why these clots may be happening?

We don’t know yet, but this is definitely something investigators will be looking into.

Do you expect to hear about more cases of clots with the J&J vaccine because there is heightened awareness?

Yes, I would think that due to increased awareness and vigilance we will hear of more cases.

How do we balance these concerns with general vaccine hesitancy?

The societal and individual benefits of vaccination are critical. I personally have been vaccinated, as have my parents and spouse. I recommend getting vaccinated.

What vaccines are available right now?
The Moderna and Pfizer mRNA vaccines are an excellent choice right now and there will be plenty of these vaccines for anyone who wants one. More than 28,000 people participated in the Moderna trial, and more than 44,000 participated in the Pfizer trial. By now, millions of people have received either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine. Both are at least 94.1 percent effective at preventing COVID-19 at least 14 days after the second shot. Also, both of these vaccines were developed based on at least 20 years of research. If you have any questions, speak to your physician.

Elad Levy, MD, is a professor and L. Nelson Hopkins MD Chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB.