Beyond the warning: La Crosse health leaders add context to J&J COVID-19 vaccine concern

Health leaders report adverse reactions for transparency and research; La Crosse experts say COVID-19 vaccines remain effective

ONALASKA, Wis. (WKBT) – Researchers are looking into 100 reported cases of a neurological condition to see if there is a connection to the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. Researchers in the vaccine industry report potential adverse reactions to stay transparent and make sure these vaccines are safe.

Health communication is a complex issue for doctors and health leaders throughout the world. In a world of information overflow, Gundersen Health System’s Dr. Raj Naik wades through complex medical information in a way everyone can understand.

“It’s complicated,” Naik said.

Monday the Food and Drug Administration released a warning after 100 people, who got the J&J vaccine, were diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a rare neurological condition.

“What we call an ascending paralysis, starting at the feet and moving its way up,” said Naik, describing a symptom of the condition.

The way people report these cases matters. They came through the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. This database allows anybody to report anything related to vaccines.

“It is not something designed to show cause and effect,” Naik said.

Meaning, just because someone develops Guillain-Barré syndrome does not mean the vaccine is the culprit. There is risk all around us for several different things. Researchers are taking a look at these 100 cases of this neurological syndrome. Keep in mind, in the state of Wisconsin in 2019, car crashes injured 40,000 people.

Based on simple math people have a better chance of ending up in the hospital from a car crash, than from an adverse reaction from the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Abinash Virk said these 100 cases affected people within two weeks of receiving the shot.

“For patients who are well beyond the two weeks of [receiving] the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the risk is pretty much not there,” Virk said.

Even though these warnings create a lot of noise, no report of these adverse reactions at all would be louder to people.

“If they didn’t report these things, that would break our trust in the system,” Naik said.

The cases have largely affected mostly men, many aged 50 and older. Most people fully recover from Guillain-Barré. Doctors encourage people to get vaccinated because it’s the best defense against the Delta variant.