More than 3 million MA residents fully vaccinated, fewer than 1% report serious side effects

BOSTON — 25 Investigates reviewed months of federal COVID-19 data and found some Massachusetts residents are reporting more than just sore arms, fever and chills after getting the vaccine.

Investigative reporter Ted Daniel pored through the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) database and found more than 1,300 reports from local residents of more serious reactions, from itchy arms to cardiac arrest.

But that number represents less than 1% of the 3.8 million state residents who, as of this writing, are fully immunized. 25 Investigates spoke to Jason Williams, a married father of two from Methuen, who is among those who reported an adverse reaction to VAERS.

“I felt it was important to get,” said Williams, who received the single dose Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine in April.

Williams was driving home from the vaccination site when, he said, he fainted after getting the shot.

“I started feeling really strange, got a warm, tingling sensation through my body and I lost consciousness,” he said.

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The next thing he remembers, he said, was his truck in a tree and his face in an airbag.

He said the crashed happened 29 minutes after the shot when into his arm. According to Williams, he told the person who checked him in at the vaccination site that he had a previous adverse reaction to a morphine shot when he dislocated his shoulder as a kid.

“I got the shot. Waited the 15 minutes that they had told me to and then on my way home, that’s when the accident happened,” he recalled.

When asked if the fainting spell could be a strange coincidence, Williams assured us he’s never lost consciousness and considers himself a “healthy guy.”

“I’m 100% sure the vaccine is what caused that,” he said. “I don’t have any underlying health conditions.”

Williams reported his reaction on the CDC’s VAERS website.

According to the site: “VAERS is not designed to determine if a vaccine caused a health problem but is especially useful for detecting unusual or unexpected patterns […] that might indicate a possible safety problem.”

Included in the adverse event reports related to COVID vaccines from Massachusetts are 61 deaths, per a review by 25 Investigates.

Among the events reported, we found a 25-year-old man who said he experienced “a loss of smell lasting more than five days,” a 68-year-old woman who reported “itching, head to toes,” a 78-year-old woman who said she was “100 deaf” for several hours, a 55-year-old man with diabetes and other health conditions who died one day after getting his first vaccine, and a 77-year-old man with no documented pre-existing conditions who died six days after his second dose.

But, UMass Memorial infectious disease specialist Dr. Richard Ellison said VAERS data is important but should be viewed as a starting point for further research.

“So the fact that we see someone’s getting the vaccine and then slowly has a heart attack two days later, you have to say ‘What is the chance of that person having a heart attack without having gotten the vaccine?’” he said.

Ellison said people with pre-existing conditions, in particular, have a higher risk of becoming severely ill from COVID, and that’s a greater reason to get vaccinated.

He also added that the chances of having a serious reaction to a vaccine are about one in a million. Based on those odds, you are twice as likely to get struck by lightning.

We also checked with a vaccine injury attorney about the COVID-19 shot’s safety record. Howard Gold, who represents people injured by vaccines nationwide, told us his office has received about 150 inquiries about COVID vaccine injuries since December.

“These injuries, you know, while rare, are real. But many of the times it’s either a coincidence or it could be something preexisting or there could have been something going on with a patient that they didn’t even know about prior to an onset of some symptoms,” he said.

Gold added he personally feels the COVID-19 vaccine is safe.

“I’m a vaccine injury attorney. All I do is vaccine injury law. I’m fully vaccinated. My family’s fully vaccinated. And not only that, but I participated in a COVID vaccine trial,” he said.

As for Williams, the Methuen man who fainted after getting the one dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine, he still thinks the vaccine is important, just not suitable for him.

“It’s saved a lot of lives and I think it will continue to do that. But for me, personally, in my experience, I wouldn’t do it again,” he said.

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