A King County woman in her late 30s has become the first person in Washington state to die from a rare blood-clotting syndrome after receiving the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, local health officials confirmed Tuesday morning.
The woman received her shot on Aug. 26. She died less than two weeks later on Sept. 7, according to a statement from Public Health — Seattle & King County.
Public health officials said the syndrome was a “very rare” complication of the vaccine. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has counted three other similar deaths nationally.
“We at Public Health are saddened by this loss and offer condolences to the woman’s family and loved ones,” the Tuesday statement said.
The woman’s cause of death was thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS), a condition researchers have said is a rare but “potentially serious adverse event in people who received the J&J vaccine,” the statement said. TTS is known as blood clots with low platelets, according to the CDC.
As of Sept. 22, more than 14.8 million doses of the J&J shot had been administered in the United States, according to the CDC. Of those, there have been 47 confirmed cases where recipients later developed TTS.
The King County woman’s diagnosis was confirmed by the CDC’s clinical immunization safety assessment project, according to the public health department.
“Sadly, this is the first such death in Washington State,” state Secretary of Health Dr. Umair A. Shah said in a Tuesday statement. “We send our deepest condolences to her family and loved ones. Losing a loved one at any time is a tragic and difficult … pain that’s become all too familiar in the last year and a half of this pandemic.”
The public health agencies did not publicly identify the woman, but an obituary placed in The Oregonian describes a 37-year-old Seattle woman, Jessica Berg Wilson, who died on Sept. 7 from “COVID-19 vaccine-induced thrombotic thrombocytopenia.” According to her obituary, Wilson, a Portland native, had no underlying health conditions.
Wilson was “vehemently opposed” to the COVID-19 vaccine, her obituary says. It says her “passion to be actively involved in her children’s education — which included being a Room Mom — was, once again, blocked by government mandate.”
Wilson’s death was listed in the King County Medical Examiner’s records, though the office did not investigate it because her death didn’t fall under its jurisdiction, an investigator said via phone. The medical examiner’s office generally investigates “sudden, unexpected and unnatural deaths,” according to its website.
Wilson is survived by her husband, two young daughters, parents and two siblings, according to the obituary.
The CDC temporarily paused its authorization of the J&J vaccine in April, after federal health officials found 15 cases of people who developed a rare blood clot after receiving the shot. All of the patients were women, most under age 50. Three died.
During the 11-day pause, the CDC and Food and Drug Administration studied available data to assess the risk of thrombosis involving the cerebral venous sinuses and other parts of the body, the FDA said at the time. The pause was ultimately lifted when researchers determined that the vaccine’s benefits outweighed its potential risks.
After the pause was lifted, the FDA included a new warning in its recommendation of the J&J shot, noting that rare clotting events might occur after vaccination, primarily among women ages 18 to 49 years old.
There have also been two confirmed cases of TTS in the U.S. in people who received Moderna shots, though the CDC said there is “not an increased risk” for TTS after receiving an mRNA COVID-19 vaccination.
King County’s public health department said Tuesday that it’s “important to note” the rare syndrome has not been largely associated with Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.
As of April, the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) — the county’s vaccine safety monitoring system — had seen a rate of 7 TTS cases per 1 million J&J vaccine doses administered to women between 18 and 49 years old, according to an April report from the CDC. For women older than 50, VAERS saw a rate of 0.9 TTS cases per 1 million doses.
The report noted TTS rates were highest among women in their 30s, with 11.8 TTS cases per 1 million J&J shots.
The CDC hasn’t yet reported similar data for men, who are generally less at risk of TTS after receiving a J&J shot.
Public health agencies have urged health providers to educate their patients about the risk of TTS and provide information about other COVID-19 vaccine options, like Pfizer or Moderna shots.
The J&J vaccine was 66.3% effective in clinical trials at preventing COVID-19 infections, offering the most protection two weeks after immunization.
As of Tuesday, 7,807 people had died of COVID-19 in Washington. Nationwide, 703,362 people have died from the virus.
Health officials continue to recommend COVID-19 vaccines as the strongest defense against the pandemic.
As of last week, the department reported those who are unvaccinated are 57 times more likely to die and 41 times more likely to be hospitalized from the virus than those who have received immunizations.