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Why the pause of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is actually a good thing

Americans woke up this morning to the news that the FDA and the CDC have recommended a pause on the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine out of "an abundance of caution" while they review 6 incidences of rare blood clotting issues out of the 6.8 million J & J vaccines administered in the U.S.

Let's be super clear about the numbers here. Six out of 6.8 million. That means, of the people who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine since its February 27th emergency use authorization, 0.000088% of recipients have reported encountering this rare blood clotting issue. Literally less than one in a million.

On the flip side, some people are trying to compare these rare clots with the increased risk of blood clots in pregnancy and for those taking birth control pills, but this particular combination of clots and low platelets can't be treated the way clots normally are treated, which the CDC and FDA say is part of the reason for the pause—to alert doctors to treat any of these rare issues properly.


Getting technical:

"In these cases, a type of blood clot called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST) was seen in combination with low levels of blood platelets (thrombocytopenia)," said a statement from Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC, and Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. "All six cases occurred among women between the ages of 18 and 48, and symptoms occurred 6 to 13 days after vaccination."

"Right now, these adverse events appear to be extremely rare," the statement added.

The problem, of course, with this responsible pause for review is that people who were already unsure about the vaccines may become even more hesitant. "See? We were right to wait! The vaccine isn't safe!" However, there are two big reasons why that's the wrong reaction.

1. Even assuming these clotting issues are truly caused by the vaccine and are wrapped into the numbers, the vaccine is still a far, far safer bet than taking your chances with COVID.

The math bears this out clearly. More Americans have received a COVID vaccine shot than have been diagnosed with COVID, with no pattern of deaths following vaccinations that would indicate a safety issue. Meanwhile, we have 562,000+ deaths from COVID. Even if you believe the COVID mortality numbers to be overcounted in some way (despite experts believing the count is likely an undercount), you would have to have practically zero COVID deaths to make the vaccines riskier.

But risk isn't just about death, right? What about side effects and long-term health effects of both? According to the WHO, approximately 10-15% of people who get COVID will develop severe illness, and about 5% will become critically ill. No one knows the long-term impact of COVID infection yet, but a WHO survey found that even among people ages 18 to 34 years in good health, 20% (1 in 5) of reported "prolonged symptoms." People with mild illness have reported months-long health issues, and we don't know yet if, when, or how people will recover fully. Meanwhile, immune system responses to the COVID vaccines can make people feel ill for a short time, and a very small number of people have experienced allergic reactions to the mRNA shots, but researchers have identified no patterns of long-term health issues with the vaccines at this point, which leads us to the second point.

2. This pause means that safety monitoring is working exactly like it's supposed to.

The FDA and CDC had to weigh the risk that pausing the J & J vaccine may cause vaccine hesitancy, but went with the pause recommendation anyway. Some people have expressed frustration with this choice, as the miniscule risk of blood clotting issue does not mathematically outweigh the risk of people not getting vaccinated, but ultimately people need to be confident that the process is thorough and transparent.

This is exactly what the safety monitoring of the vaccine rollouts is supposed to do—identify any potential risks and review them as they come up. These blood clot issues are so rare that there was no way for them to have shown up in the clinical trials, as that would have required a sample size of millions of people.

Messaging here is vital, of course. People need to know that the issues FDA and CDC are reviewing are extremely rare, that a pause is not a permanent halt, and that the reason they are pausing is because of the 6.8 million doses administered so far, these 6 very specific, very rare blood clot incidences are the only potential red flags they've seen.

That is impressive. And as far as hesitancy about vaccines goes, people also need to know that the J & J vaccine is a different kind of vaccine than the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. The J & J pause has zero bearing on the other two.

In addition, a pause on the J & J vaccine is not going to have a humongous impact on our country's vaccination numbers, since it only makes up about 5% of our total vaccine shot numbers. More than 100 million doses of Modern and Pfizer have been administered, with only a minuscule number of severe allergy reactions.

Statistically, the vaccines—even the J & J, despite the pause for review—are on very solid safety ground. The problem is how humans process and calculate statistical risk. (Basically, we're really bad at it.)

For some people, the idea of putting something into our bodies on purpose (a vaccine) feels riskier than taking a chance with getting the virus and the chance of having problems with it. But that's risk assessment based on feeling, not fact. People make most of their decisions based on emotion over reason, even if they think they don't.

So even though the J & J pause is actually a good thing, as it shows that the people in charge are monitoring things closely and taking any potential risks seriously no matter how small, there's a good chance that this news will lower people's confidence in the vaccines.

The key thing to remember is that nothing is 100% safe. But there is zero doubt that, overall, the vaccines are a far safer bet than COVID.

Photo courtesy of Girls at Work

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via Lewis Speaks Sr. / Facebook

This article originally appeared on 02.25.21


Middle school has to be the most insecure time in a person's life. Kids in their early teens are incredibly cruel and will make fun of each other for not having the right shoes, listening to the right music, or having the right hairstyle.

As if the social pressure wasn't enough, a child that age has to deal with the intensely awkward psychological and biological changes of puberty at the same time.

Jason Smith, the principal of Stonybrook Intermediate and Middle School in Warren Township, Indiana, had a young student sent to his office recently, and his ability to understand his feelings made all the difference.

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All images provided by Adewole Adamson

It begins with more inclusive conversations at a patient level

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Adewole Adamson, MD, of the University of Texas, Austin, aims to create more equity in health care by gathering data from more diverse populations by using artificial intelligence (AI), a type of machine learning. Dr. Adamson’s work is funded by the American Cancer Society (ACS), an organization committed to advancing health equity through research priorities, programs and services for groups who have been marginalized.

Melanoma became a particular focus for Dr. Adamson after meeting Avery Smith, who lost his wife—a Black woman—to the deadly disease.

melanoma,  melanoma for dark skin Avery Smith (left) and Adamson (sidenote)

This personal encounter, coupled with multiple conversations with Black dermatology patients, drove Dr. Adamson to a concerning discovery: as advanced as AI is at detecting possible skin cancers, it is heavily biased.

To understand this bias, it helps to first know how AI works in the early detection of skin cancer, which Dr. Adamson explains in his paper for the New England Journal of Medicine (paywall). The process uses computers that rely on sets of accumulated data to learn what healthy or unhealthy skin looks like and then create an algorithm to predict diagnoses based on those data sets.

This process, known as supervised learning, could lead to huge benefits in preventive care.

After all, early detection is key to better outcomes. The problem is that the data sets don’t include enough information about darker skin tones. As Adamson put it, “everything is viewed through a ‘white lens.’”

“If you don’t teach the algorithm with a diverse set of images, then that algorithm won’t work out in the public that is diverse,” writes Adamson in a study he co-wrote with Smith (according to a story in The Atlantic). “So there’s risk, then, for people with skin of color to fall through the cracks.”

Tragically, Smith’s wife was diagnosed with melanoma too late and paid the ultimate price for it. And she was not an anomaly—though the disease is more common for White patients, Black cancer patients are far more likely to be diagnosed at later stages, causing a notable disparity in survival rates between non-Hispanics whites (90%) and non-Hispanic blacks (66%).

As a computer scientist, Smith suspected this racial bias and reached out to Adamson, hoping a Black dermatologist would have more diverse data sets. Though Adamson didn’t have what Smith was initially looking for, this realization ignited a personal mission to investigate and reduce disparities.

Now, Adamson uses the knowledge gained through his years of research to help advance the fight for health equity. To him, that means not only gaining a wider array of data sets, but also having more conversations with patients to understand how socioeconomic status impacts the level and efficiency of care.

“At the end of the day, what matters most is how we help patients at the patient level,” Adamson told Upworthy. “And how can you do that without knowing exactly what barriers they face?”

american cancer society, skin cacner treatment"What matters most is how we help patients at the patient level."https://www.kellydavidsonstudio.com/

The American Cancer Society believes everyone deserves a fair and just opportunity to prevent, find, treat, and survive cancer—regardless of how much money they make, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, gender identity, their disability status, or where they live. Inclusive tools and resources on the Health Equity section of their website can be found here. For more information about skin cancer, visit cancer.org/skincancer.

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Pop Culture

'90s kids share movies that will 'take you back to a better time'

It was a magical time when animals played sports and yet somehow things were just simpler.

YouTube/Upworthy photo illustration

Honey, I shrunk the kid named Matilda while jamming in space!

Everyone knows that '90s movies just hit different. From sports movies to rom-coms to even horror, there was an undeniable innocence, without being overly simplistic or juvenile. They didn’t have nearly the amount of money going into production as they do today, but somehow managed to transport us to magical places.

Movies of the '90s are so iconic that there have been several attempts to reboot beloved titles. Which, let’s face it, tends to be a fool's errand at a cash grab. These movies are so timeless that simply viewing the original is more than fine.

Not sure which movie to start with? You’re in luck—a Reddit user by the name of YouBrokeMyTV asked ’90s kids to share movies that took them “back to a better time,” and because the internet can be a wonderful place, tons of people responded with some beloved classics.

These answers certainly don’t make a definitive list (there are just so, so many gems) but they're a fun glimpse into what made '90s cinema so special. A nostalgic romp through memory lane, if you will.

Enjoy these 14 titles that just might leave you jonesing for a rewatch:

1. "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids"

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A perfect example of how '90s movies were silly, but smart at the same time. And oh so wholesome.

2. "The Sandlot"

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It taught us nothing about baseball, but everything about friendship, rooting for the underdog and (most important) how to make s’mores.

3. "Drop Dead Fred"

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Critics might have run this cult classic through the mud during its inception, but audiences fell in love with the bizarre charm of this story about a mischievous little girl and her anarchist imaginary friend. So take that, snotfaces!

4. "The Goonies"

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Everyone just wanted to set off an epic quest with their friends for pirate treasure after seeing this movie.

5. Tim Burton's "Batman"

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Before the superhero genre was the behemoth it is today, a quirky director and the dude who was best known for playing the creepy demon in "Beetlejuice" breathed new life into comic-book movies. Marvel might be the leader on creating stories with adult themes that are digestible for kids nowadays, but this DC film was the first of its kind. Plus, that soundtrack … forget about it.

6. "Hook"

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Pretty much any '90s film starring Robin Williams was an absolute gem, but this one in particular is timeless. His gift of balancing childlike humor with emotional gravitas lent itself so well to playing the now grown and cynical Peter Pan, who must learn to reclaim his joy (relatable, millennials?). It was a bang-a-rang-er, no question.

7. "Space Jam"

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It had Looney Tunes, it had aliens and it had Michael Jordan. That’s a winning combination.

8. "Matilda"

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I don’t think I’m out of line when I say that this movie helped a lot of kids make their way through difficult childhoods.

9. "The Parent Trap"

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Even '90s reboots were awesome. And how fun it is to see that Lisa Ann Walker—the actress who played Chessy the housekeeper—is not only yet again gracing the screens in NBC’s “Abbott Elementary,” but is also being revered as a style icon on TikTok for her ultra casual looks in the film. We all knew she was onto something with long button downs and shorts.

10. "The Land Before Time"

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No cartoon, not even “The Lion King,” was a better depiction of childhood grief. And yet, despite encapsulating tragedy, director Don Bluth still left viewers hopeful. The subsequent 14 (yes 14) sequels definitely pale in comparison to the original, but "The Land Before Time" continues to stand the test of time nonetheless.

11. "Richie Rich"

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The scene where they play tag on four-wheelers is simply iconic.

12. "Dunston Checks In"

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Man, the '90s were the golden age of animal-centered films. And not just monkeys either—we got sports playing golden retrievers and not one, but two movies starring talking pigs. What a time to be alive. These films were made before CGI had reached the levels it’s at today, and the authentic interactions between humans and creatures reached right through the screen.

13. "George of the Jungle"
george of the jungle, brendan faser

Watch out for the tree!!!

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Have I seen this movie at least 20 times? Probably. It doesn’t get any better than this in terms of silly action films with bird puppets. It’s crazy to think that this role would eventually lead Brendan Fraser to "The Mummy" franchise, turning him into a household name. Though his career has had some tragic ups and downs, we are all grateful for the glorious comeback he’s been having.

14. Anything involving Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen
mary kate and ashley

Yes, they were professional detectives.

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Whether vacationing in London, Paris or Rome, whether playing magical witches or making a huge billboard so their father could find love … Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen offered zany, whimsical entertainment while wearing fun outfits. Sometimes, that’s all you need.