UNC expert: ‘Don’t overreact’ to FDA’s warning of rare neurological disorder stemming from J&J vaccine

North Carolina

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – The FDA is adding a new warning to the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine after reports of a rare neurological disorder in a small number of people who received the shot.

Keith Turnmire, who works closely with clients at his Raleigh salon, didn’t hesitate to get a shot.

“I work with the public. I wanted to protect myself. I wanted to protect my family,” he said.

He liked the convenience of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and he’s not alone. Tom Forsythe got the shot hoping to get kids back to school and life back to normal.

“I didn’t even have a sore arm,” he recalled.

Now there is a new warning for the Johnson & Johnson shot after the CDC and FDA reviewed about 100 reports of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in people who received the vaccine.

UNC infectious disease specialist, Dr. David Wohl, explained: “It’s thought to be due to antibodies that people make, either because they get an infection, sometimes from a vaccine the cross-reacts with part of their nerves, and they can get weakness, especially in the legs.”

It can arise from infection and occasionally from a vaccine, including the flu vaccine. The condition can sometimes cause paralysis, which is usually temporary. According to the FDA, most of the 100 people who got Guillain-Barre after the Johnson & Johnson shot ended up in the hospital. One died.

Wohl said it’s important to put the risk in context — 100 cases out of almost 13 million people who got the Johnson & Johnson shot.

“Your odds of getting Guillain-Barre or these real problems are really low, but the chance of getting COVID-19 if you’re unvaccinated is not so low right now,” he said. “The benefits of the vaccine far, far, far outweigh any of these risks, so don’t overreact.”

Wohl said UNC hasn’t seen any cases of Guillain-Barre following the Johnson & Johnson shot. That particular vaccine accounts for fewer than 10 percent of people vaccinated in North Carolina.

According to a Wake County Public Health spokesperson, the county health department has administered 5,110 Johnson & Johnson doses. Other providers in Wake County have given an additional 30,445 doses.

Turnmire and Forsythe both said they hope the warning doesn’t deter people from getting the shot.

“I think everyone who can get vaccinated should ASAP so that there aren’t any issues getting schools reopened,” Forsythe said.

“I think it’s going to scare folks, but at the same time I think everybody’s got to know the risk,” Turnmire said. “If there’s such a small percentage of people, I say, ‘Why not?'”

The reports of Guillain-Barre mostly occurred in men older than 50 within two weeks of getting the shot. Federal health officials have not seen Guillain-Barre associated with the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

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