Triad health leaders see reluctance to get Johnson & Johnson vaccine amid warning about neurological disorder side effect


(WGHP) — Health leaders across the Triad have hit a possible roadblock as they bolster their efforts to get people vaccinated.

The Food and Drug Administration sent a warning linking the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to a rare neurological disorder, Guillain-Barre syndrome. Side effects include a loss of the ability to keep strength and sensation and even paralysis.

Dr. Megan Donnelly, a Novant health neurologist, explained the likelihood of developing Guillain-Barre syndrome from COVID is far more likely than getting it from the J&J vaccine.

“If 3 percent of people who get COVID die from it compared to a 1/300,000 chance of getting a neuromuscular disease, your risk of COVID is still profoundly higher than an untoward outcome of the vaccine,” Donnelly said.

Fewer than 100 people vaccinated with J&J developed Guillain-Barre. It is also a side effect of other vaccines, including the flu shot.

“It does have a history with vaccines. In 1976, there was a slight increased risk of developing it after the swine flu vaccination,” Donnelly said.

Tony Lo Giudice is the director of the Alamance County Health Department. He’s seen people choose Pfizer and Moderna, over the one-and-done option.

“We’ve been doing very few J&J since we’ve had the ability to offer people the options for different vaccines,” Lo Giudice said. “All vaccinations have some sort of precautions. None of them are perfect.”

They still stock J&J as they vaccinate anywhere from 30-60 people a day on weekdays.

In Forsyth County, the numbers are lower daily. Anywhere from 15-40 people get vaccinated a day.

“Every dose, every arm that’s someone who’s protected,” Forsyth County Health Director Joshua Swift said.

While 60 percent of people in Forsyth County have at least one shot, Swift is hoping to bump that up to 70 percent.

Health leaders hope people realize the benefits of the shot outweighs the risks.

“When you look at the big picture, this vaccine, it saves lives, it prevents hospitalizations and it’s the reason why we have less cases,” Swift said.

In Guilford County, officials say they have not seen a notable drop-off in vaccinations as a result of negativity surrounding J&J.

Overall, health directors said their job is not to convince anyone to get any particular vaccine but to educate those who have misconceptions.

The CDC has not deemed any of the three vaccines unsafe.

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