A highlight from COVID, Quickly, Episode 5: Vaccine Safety in Pregnancy, Blood Clots, and Long-Haul Realities

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Hi and welcome to covid quickly. A scientific american podcast series. This is your fast track update on the covid. Pandemic we bring you up to speed on the science behind the most urgent questions about the virus and the disease we demystify the research and we help you understand what it really means. I'm tanya lewis josh richmond. Where scientific americans. Senior health editors. Today we're gonna be talking about. Why co vaccine safe for pregnancy. And the rarity of blood clots with the johnson and johnson vaccine and the first strong data showing that. Kobe still hurts many months after they. I got sick parents to be worried about the safety of kobe. Vaccines for pregnancy josh. This week there's some reassurance right yes there's some good news a study of about thirty five thousand pregnant women done from december twenty twenty through february of this year found that they reported no extra problems they had the same levels of side effects that non pregnant women had soreness in the arms where they got the shah fatigue and headaches a small group of these women just about eight hundred of them finished their pregnancies during the study and again the results parallel general population eighty six percent of the pregnancies resulted in live birth rates of miscarriage birth defects premature birth and low birth weights. Were very close to what women experienced before. The pandemic hit us now. There are some limits to this research which came out this week. In the new england journal of medicine people volunteered to report their conditions to a federal government website. So maybe those serious problems were not among the volunteers in several months a broader look at actual medical records. Give a more complete picture still before this. We really didn't know anything about the safety of these vaccines in pregnancy. Now we do and expecting parents can feel better about getting their shots last week. Us health agencies recommended a pause on the use of the johnson and johnson vaccine because of several extremely rare reports of blood clots. What's going on with that. Well only six people had this condition out of about seven million so the risk of it happening is extremely rare. But the cdc and fda made the decision to pause vaccinations out of abundance of caution. These blood clots aren't quite like normal. Blood clots though. They seem to occur in combination with low numbers of platelets. Parts of blood. Involved in clotting while clots themselves are quite common. This particular combination of symptoms is very rare in resembles a condition known as heparin induced robotics rambo site of pina which occurs occasionally with the blood thinner. Heparin another vaccine made by astrazeneca has been linked to this rare blood clotting condition in a very small number of individuals in europe leading to a similar pause. They're both vaccines are made with the dental viruses. So it's possible. There's a similar mechanism play. Scientists cautioned that the risk of these clauses still extremely low especially compared with the risk from covid is holding off going to increase vaccine hesitancy among some people. Some critics think so but other scientists say this is exactly how the system is supposed to work that by taking these rare event. Seriously the cdc in fda or cultivating more trustworthy americans. There's another argument for the pause. It notifies doctors to look out for these patients with these rare reactions so they can be treated the signs of blood clots. Are things like an extremely persistent headache. Abdominal pain leg pain or shortness of breath within one to two weeks of vaccination. Also there's evidence that the normal treatment for these clots blood thinner heparin may actually make it worse. There are other treatments. Doctors should give instead visor maderno. Vaccines haven't been linked to clots for johnson and johnson. Cdc advisory committee is set to meet today to discuss the pause. They may decide to lift the pause and possibly issue warning about the clots. Europe has done or they may extend the pause until they have more data for the past year. We've heard a few stories about kobe. Long haulers people struggling months after their initial bout of covid. But this week we got some strong evidence showing. Just how serious is right. Yes we have. Data drawn from more than seventy thousand. Covid patients followed for six months after their initial illness. Some of these people remain really sick. This isn't a bunch of anecdotes. This is a strong pattern and it can be deadly to the patients. Were all in the veterans administration health system so they have detail records compared with noncovic patients. They had a fifty nine percent higher risk of death during those six months. A whole slew of medical problems cropped up during that time heart attacks respiratory failure diabetes neurological problems anxiety and more. These patients kept showing up. In doctor's offices and used more medications. There was also a higher rate of opioid use. Not everyone runs into these problems with their real. And here's a striking comparison. You know how people say oh cove is just like a flu. No it's worse. The data published this week in the journal nature compared covid patients to flu patients. The flu patients had lower levels of all the almost as i just mentioned and covert patients. Were more likely to die during that half year about fifty percent more likely for some patients. The initial infection isn't the end of their problems.

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