CDC Says Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Is Safe After Reports of Fainting

COVID vaccine.

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Key Takeaways

  • A small number of recipients at vaccination clinics in two states had adverse reactions to the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, causing temporary shutdowns.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that there are no safety issues or cause for concern and sites are free to continue distributing the doses.
  • The reactions with the vaccine seen were common symptoms that can be attributed to nervousness or anxiety.

On April 8, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended (CDC) that health officials in two states resume distributing doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. After a spate of adverse reactions—in the form of light-headedness and fainting—to the vaccine occurred in vaccination locations in Colorado and North Carolina, sites temporarily halted the distribution of Johnson & Johnson doses.

In North Carolina, the vaccination clinic at the PNC Arena in Raleigh put vaccinations of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on hold. Out of 2,300 shots administered at the arena by UNC Health, 18 people had reactions to the shot within 15 minutes of receiving it. Four were taken to the hospital for evaluation, while the rest has minor reactions. According to CDC one of these vaccine recipients experienced an allergic reaction.

The symptoms people experienced included nausea, dizziness, fainting, rapid breathing, and sweating.

In Colorado, a day earlier, 11 people experienced reactions like these after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at a clinic held at the Dick’s Sporting Goods Park stadium. The vaccination clinic was shut down an hour and a half early and several hundred people waiting for the vaccine were rescheduled to get the Pfizer-BioNTech shot a few days later. However, Centura Health, which was administering the vaccines, said that the reactions witnessed were pretty mild and improved after some rest, according to CBS Denver.

The CDC and experts agree that these cases aren't a reason for alarm. Some of these symptoms, like fainting and sweating, may be attributed to anxiety or fear, rather than the vaccine itself.

What Officials Say

On April 9, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services issued a statement saying that its analysis “did not find any safety issues or reason for concern." The CDC recommended that healthcare providers continue to administer the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

According to officials in Colorado and North Carolina, the incidence of adverse reactions was within the normal rate and wasn't unusual. The Johnson & Johnson vaccines used in Colorado and North Carolina were also from different manufacturing lots, ruling out the possibility of a faulty production site.

What Symptoms Should You Expect?

Some common side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine include pain, redness, and swelling at the vaccination site. In the rest of your body, you may feel tiredness, headaches, muscle pain, chills, fever, and nausea. These side effects usually start within a day or so of getting the vaccine. You might feel like you have flu symptoms and might need to rest for a day, but they should go away in a few days.

In North Carolina, public health officials says that the reactions seen in Raleigh were "consistent with known common side effects from receiving the vaccine," according to WSOC-TV.

Nerves Could Play a Role

In Colorado, the chief medical officer of the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment said the reactions were not abnormal and could be related to nervousness on the part of the recipients. “I reviewed the reports of each of the individuals that was feeling unwell. There were stories of people who had needle phobia, of people with a history of anxiety, others who were just feeling very lightheaded and fainted while sitting in their car after vaccination,” Eric France, MD, said to CBS Denver. “I don’t think it represents that the vaccines themselves are at fault or a failure. I think they’re safe and it’s important that we all get vaccinated with whatever vaccine we can as soon as possible.”

In North Carolina, Wake County Public Health's Medical Director Kim McDonald, MD, said to 11 ABC, "We know it can be alarming to hear about or see people having reactions to vaccination—this is why we closely monitor those we vaccinate in case of reaction." The halt in vaccinations was being done out of an abundance of caution, she added.

UNC Health says it will resume using Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine at its clinics, but with an added precaution. Recipients who get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be asked if they have a history of fainting or have a fear of needles. People with this history will be able to recline after taking the shot, will not be moved to a separate observation area, and will receive drinks or snacks, according to the Charlotte News and Observer.

What This Means to You

Don't panic about reports of adverse reactions to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Individuals experienced typical symptoms associated with the COVID-19 vaccine, and experts say many of the reactions can be attributed to nervousness about the vaccines. The CDC says it is safe to continue distributing the Johnson & Johnson doses.

Future Distribution for Johnson & Johnson

You may see the number of available Johnson & Johnson’s vaccines drop in the near future for reasons unrelated to adverse reactions. This week, allocations of the vaccine will plummet by more than 85%, according to data released by the CDC.

The number of available doses will drop from about 4.9 million to 700,000. Some of this decline may be due to an error at a manufacturing plant in Baltimore that ruined up to 15 million doses of vaccine, however, it is not known how big a role the factory mistake had in Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine distribution.

It's still not known for sure what caused this drop, but officials have previously warned that allocations will fluctuate week by week. But for now, sites are safe to continue distributing the doses they do have. If a Johnson & Johnson dose is made available to you, don't shy away.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. CDC finds no safety issues, recommends continuing to administer vaccine following limited reactions at Wake County vaccine event.

  2. Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Update on Dick’s Sporting Goods community vaccination site.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National weekly Janssen allocations.

By Valerie DeBenedette
Valerie DeBenedette has over 30 years' experience writing about health and medicine. She is the former managing editor of Drug Topics magazine.