CDC Warns of 'Small Possible Risk' of Rare Nerve Disorder from Johnson & Johnson Vaccine

The CDC said they've received reports of 100 people who developed Guillain-Barré syndrome after getting Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine, a small fraction of the 13 million inoculated

Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine
A person receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. Photo: FRANK AUGSTEIN/POOL/AFP via Getty

Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine may lead to a "small possible risk" of a nerve disorder, the Centers for Disease Control warned Monday.

The federal health agency said that they've received reports of 100 people who developed Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare condition where the body's immune system attacks the nerves and can lead to a temporary paralysis. The chance of developing the condition is extremely low, however, and the cases are a small fraction of the 13 million people who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The benefits of vaccination still outweigh the very rare risk of Guillain-Barré.

Still, regulators say that the number of people reporting cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome after getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is three to five times higher than what typically occurs in the general population of the U.S., The New York Times reported. In response, the Food and Drug Administration is expected to add a warning label to the vaccine about the possibility.

The CDC said they will request their panel of outside vaccine experts to look into the reports. Most of the cases were in men, typically those aged 50 years old and up, in the three weeks after vaccination. One 57-year-old man with multiple pre-existing conditions, including a heart attack and stroke in the last four years, died after developing Guillain-Barré syndrome.

There has not been any link between Guillain-Barré syndrome and the two other approved vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna.

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Johnson & Johnson's single-dose vaccine has run into issues since it was approved for use in early March. In a very small number of cases, women who received the vaccine developed a rare blood clotting condition and the CDC briefly paused inoculations before adding a warning label about the minor risk. Later that month, a Baltimore plant that manufactured the vaccine was shut down after the FDA identified possible cross-contamination, and in June, they were ordered to throw out 60 million doses.

Though some Americans preferred the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the majority of fully vaccinated Americans, around 92%, received Pfizer or Moderna's versions.

As of July 12, nearly 184.5 million Americans have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, or 55.5% of the total population, and 159.5 million, or 48%, are fully vaccinated. Of the eligible population, those aged 12 and up, 64.9% have received at least one dose and 56.2% are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

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