Many vaccine reactions were actually anxiety, CDC states

A CDC analysis suggests that anxiety is causing reactions like dizziness and fainting after getting the J&J shot

By Nicole Karlis

Senior Writer

Published April 30, 2021 4:33PM (EDT)

Scared man sitting with his eyes closed during coronavirus vaccination in a hospital (Getty Images)
Scared man sitting with his eyes closed during coronavirus vaccination in a hospital (Getty Images)

Fainting, dizziness, vomiting, a racing heart— these are just some of the reported reactions people said they experienced after receiving Johnson & Johnson's Janssen vaccine. However, according to a new analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these reactions weren't related to an issue with the vaccine itself but instead were the results of pre-vaccine anxiety, including a fear of needles. 

The CDC authors examined data from five mass vaccination sites in California, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa and North Carolina, which reported an increase in "anxiety-related events" following the administration of Johnson & Johnson's Janssen COVID-19 vaccine between April 7 and 9. According to the analysis, 64 out of 8,624 vaccine recipients reported experiencing rapid heart rate, rapid breathing or fainting.

All of the events were reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS); none were considered "serious" by the system's standards. The authors of the report suggested that because the J&J COVID-19 vaccine is a single-dose shot, people who are more fearful of needles might be more likely to get the shot instead of the two-dose options.

"It is possible that some persons seeking Janssen COVID-19 vaccination could be more highly predisposed to anxiety-related events after being vaccinated," the authors of the study explained. "The stress of an ongoing pandemic might also increase anxiety surrounding COVID-19 vaccination."

Twenty-percent of those who had anxiety-related reactions, which equated to 13 patients out of the 64, informed staff at the vaccination sites that they had a history of needle aversion. A quarter of those who lost consciousness were between the ages of 19 and 49 years old.

"As use of COVID-19 vaccines expands into younger age groups, providers should be aware that younger persons might be more highly predisposed to anxiety-related events after vaccination than are older persons," the CDC reports. "Increased awareness of anxiety-related events after vaccination will enable vaccination providers to make an informed decision about continuing vaccination."

The CDC stated that most events resolved themselves within the 15-minute observation period that's required after receiving the vaccine. Thirteen people were taken to an emergency department, and among those at least five people were released from the hospital the same day.

In the same review, the CDC reported that 3% of reported reactions are classified as "serious," including a total of 17 incidents of severe blood clotting.

"A rare but serious adverse event occurring primarily in women, blood clots in large vessels accompanied by a low platelet count, was rapidly detected by the U.S. vaccine safety monitoring system," CDC researchers wrote. "Monitoring for common and rare adverse events after receipt of all COVID-19 vaccines, including the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine, is continuing."

After a temporary pause, the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommend use of Johnson & Johnson's Janssen vaccine. However, the health agencies have emphasized that women younger than 50 should be aware of the potential rare adverse effect.

The CDC states there haven't been any reports of blood clots among the doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that have been administered in the United States as of April 17, 2021

By Nicole Karlis

Nicole Karlis is a senior writer at Salon, specializing in health and science. Tweet her @nicolekarlis.

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