With federal officials recommending a pause in the use of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine following reports of blood clots in a small sample of people who received the shot, an expert with one of the country’s leading gynecological organizations is urging people to refrain from comparing those issues with blood clots that can occur among birth control users.
Federal officials urged the pause following reports of rare and severe blood clots in six women, all between the ages of 18 and 48, in the days after they had received the J&J vaccine. The blood clots the women experienced were a type called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, officials said, and were seen in combination with low levels of blood platelets. Officials are planning to investigate the cases; according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 6.8 million doses of the single-dose vaccine have been administered so far.
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But as America waits to hear more about the post-vaccine blood clots, Dr. Jen Villavicencio, a fellow with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, says the blood clots tied to birth control and those that occurred after a J&J shot cannot be compared, as they are different types of clots.
“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,” Villavicencio said in an emailed statement to U.S. News.
Hormonal birth control methods such as various birth control pills increase the risk for blood clots that can occur in the leg and potentially break off and travel to the lung, causing a pulmonary embolism. 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.
“The risk of blood clots is higher when using any birth control pills than not using them, but still remains lower than the risk of developing blood clots in pregnancy and in the postpartum period,” the FDA said.
Villavicencio also points out that the risk of blood clots is lower among people using birth control compared with people who are pregnant. She adds that with birth control, clinicians will screen patients for risk factors and find a safe and effective option that is right for them.
“We know from decades of use and clinical data that hormonal birth control is safe and effective, and that thanks to the variety of hormonal and non-hormonal options available, individuals are able to find the contraception that works best for them,” she says.
Meanwhile, cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, “occurs when a blood clot forms in the brain’s venous sinuses,” which “prevents blood from draining out of the brain.” Blood may then leak into brain tissue and form a hemorrhage.
“Treatment of this specific type of blood clot is different from the treatment that might typically be administered,” federal officials said in a statement Tuesday. “Usually, an anticoagulant drug called heparin is used to treat blood clots. In this setting, administration of heparin may be dangerous, and alternative treatments need to be given.”
ACOG additionally put out a statement on the Johnson & Johnson issue that said there is “no clear phenotype of women who are more or less likely to experience this rare complication,” but that until there’s a better understanding of the six cases, pregnant and postpartum women who wish to get vaccinated should be encouraged to receive the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.