UB neurosurgeon discusses rare clots tied to J&J vaccine


Published April 15, 2021

headshot of Elad Levy.

Nationwide distribution of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine was paused earlier this week after some vaccine recipients developed rare clots.

UB neurosurgeon Elad I. Levy, SUNY Distinguished Professor and L. Nelson Hopkins MD Chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB, answers some common questions.

What are the clots that have been associated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?

These clots occur in the veins of the brain. The clots are called venous sinus occlusions.

What symptoms should people watch out for?

It should be understood that these clots are very rare. The main symptom to watch out for is new onset headaches that continue to get worse over time.

Since it’s so early, investigators say it’s not clear that the vaccines caused the clots. If they didn’t cause the clots, what are other possible causes of these clots?

People get venous sinus clots in their brains from dehydration, smoking or underlying clotting disorders.

The clots that were associated with the AstraZeneca vaccines were different from these clots. What other kinds of clots can happen and where in the body do they occur?

Other kinds of clots can include deep vein thrombosis of the legs, which can break off and go to the lungs, called a pulmonary embolus. These can result from prolonged sitting on, for example, long international flights or from being bedridden. Dehydration and smoking can also cause these kinds of clots.

What do the demographics tell us so far — if anything — about why these clots may be happening?

We don’t know yet, but this is definitely something investigators will be looking into.

Do you expect to hear about more cases of clots with the J&J vaccine because there is heightened awareness?

Yes, I would think that due to increased awareness and vigilance we will hear of more cases.

How do we balance these concerns with general vaccine hesitancy?

The societal and individual benefits of vaccination are critical. I personally have been vaccinated, as have my parents and spouse. I recommend getting vaccinated.