NEW YORK (AP) – It was anxiety – and not a problem with the shots – that caused fainting, dizziness and other short-term reactions in dozens of people at coronavirus vaccine clinics in five states, US health officials have concluded.
Experts say the clusters described Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are an example of a phenomenon that has become chronic for decades from a variety of vaccines. Basically, some people get so freaked out by injections that their anxiety elicits a physical reaction.
“We knew we were going to see this”
The CDC authors said the reports came over three days, April 7-9, from clinics in California, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa and North Carolina. The study was based on interviews with and reports from clinic staff.
Many of the 64 people who were affected fainted or reported dizziness. Some became nauseous or vomited, and a few had raging hearts, chest pains, or other symptoms. No one became seriously ill.
Everyone received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and four of the five clinics were temporarily closed as officials tried to find out what happened. Health officials at the time said they had no reason to suspect a problem with the vaccine itself.
Of the three COVID-19 vaccines approved in the United States, only J & Js require only one dose. That probably makes it more appealing to people who are nervous about shots and may leave them “more prone to anxiety-related events,” the CDC report said.
Some of the advertised sites they gave J&J shots, noted Dr. Tom Shimabukuro, who leads CDC’s COVID-19 vaccination safety monitoring work and is one of the study’s authors.
The CDC found that about a quarter of the people who reported side effects had similar things happened after previous vaccinations.
The post-shot reactions differ from a very rare form of side effect that led to a pause in the administration of the J&J vaccine. At least 17 vaccine recipients have developed an unusual type of blood clot that develops in unusual places, such as veins that drain blood from the brain along with abnormally low levels of platelets that form blood clots.
Other types of side effects from coronavirus vaccines are not uncommon. Another CDC report released Friday looked at side effects reported by more than 300,000 recipients of the J&J vaccine. More than half said they experienced a sore arm, fatigue or headache. One-third reported fever or chills, and about one-fifth said they were nauseous.
But the clusters at the five clinics are thought to be stress-related.
MacDonald, a professor of pediatrics at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, said studies have shown that 10% to 15% of adults are afraid of injections.
Many people who experience stress-related symptoms are younger, and previous clusters from other shots have involved school students. Some are hyperventilating, others experience nausea, others reported headaches. And some had what at first appeared to be more severe neurological symptoms, she said.
A cluster that MacDonald reviewed involved 14 U.S. military reservists who developed symptoms after getting the flu shot in 2009. The first was a 23-year-old man who a day later reported progressive weakness in his arms and legs, but fully recover.
“Everyone thinks these are (only) young teenage girls” experiencing this, “MacDonald said. “It is not.”
It can start with a fainting that can trigger a chain reaction of symptoms in anxious people who see or hear about the first person. These days, people also respond to things they read or see in Facebook posts or on other pages.
Some doctors have referred to the phenomenon as a form of mass hysteria, but MacDonald rejected the term.
“These people are not crazy,” but rather experience real physical reactions to psychological stress, she said.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. AP is solely responsible for all content.
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