Though it took months to confirm it, Tatum Strieter-Byron knew from the start what no one seemed to want to believe.
The Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine brought about the April 21 death of her mother, 60-year-old Sandra Jacobs of Saline, a grandmother, a friend, an employee.
Rationalizing or explaining this as rare doesn’t help Strieter-Byron, who still finds herself picking up the phone, without thinking, to contact the first person she always called or texted with important news: her mother
“She was a real person. She is not a piece of just like fictitious political propaganda, where they’re saying it doesn’t exist. It’s not true. It does exist. She was a real person with a real life.”
Jacobs died 13 days after she received the single-shot at a CVS pharmacy on April 8, just five days before federal health agencies temporarily paused the vaccine administration while they examined an unusual blood-clotting disorder.
On Sept. 20, Michigan Medicine pathologist Dr. Michael Caplan completed the autopsy report.
Jacobs “appears to have succumbed” to a “rare but nevertheless documented” complication associated with the viral vector vaccine, cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, he wrote in the summary. According to Yale Medicine, the condition is characterized by a blood clot in the venous sinuses, part of the brain’s blood drainage system.
This brought about “hemorrhagic cerebral infarct,” or stroke caused by brain bleeding, and brain swelling, Caplan wrote.
The death certificate, just obtained after some difficulty by Strieter-Byron, lists the cause as “complications of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis” and “recent administration” of a COVID-19 vaccine as the contributing condition.
Caplan deemed the manner of death “natural.” It may also be considered a “therapeutic complication” since this is a known vaccine issue, he wrote. Under “final diagnosis,” Caplan first listed the vaccine shot.
Efforts to speak with Caplan were unsuccessful. “In conjunction with the Washtenaw County Health Department, we have decided not to have Dr. Caplan or the medical examiner’s office provide comment on the case,” Dr. Allecia Wilson, the county’s chief medical examiner, wrote in an email.
Susan Ringler-Cerniglia, spokesperson for the health department, said the department does not have further information on the case. She extended sympathies to Jacobs’ family. “Our hearts certainly go out” to them, she said.
Johnson & Johnson did not respond to a request for comment. A doctor with the manufacturer’s COVID vaccine safety team called a reporter, but only to obtain Strieter-Byron’s information. She had not heard from the doctor as of Friday, Oct. 15.
Three confirmed deaths
According to the CDC, there have been three other confirmed deaths of thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS) after patients received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, administered to more than 15 million people in the United States. Thrombosis occurs when blood clots block blood vessels; Thrombocytopenia is a condition with which patients have low blood platelet counts, the CDC reports.
The official number, however, will likely grow. It does not include Jacobs, and a 37-year-old Washington woman who died on Sept. 7 of TTS after receiving the Johnson & Johnson shot. State officials there said hers was believed to be the fourth such death in the nation.
Surveillance is continuous and updated information is expected to be forthcoming, a CDC spokesperson said this month.
The county medical examiner’s office recently submitted details on Jacobs’ death to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System, established in 1990 and used to detect possible safety problems associated with U.S.-licensed immunizations.
Deaths after COVID-19 vaccination are uncommon, the CDC says. From Dec. 14 to Oct. 6, the adverse effects system received 8,638 reports of people who died after they received a COVID-19 vaccine in the United States, where about 189.7 million people are fully vaccinated.
These reports may be incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental, or unverifiable and can be made by anyone. A review of clinical information, including death certificates, autopsy and medical records, has not established a causal link to COVID-19 vaccines. However, “recent reports indicate a plausible causal relationship” between the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and TTS, which has caused deaths, according to the CDC.
The agency and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had identified 47 confirmed reports of people with the blood clotting disorder, the CDC reports and warns women younger than 50 are at increased risk.