ST. MARTIN, Miss. (WLOX) - When the news broke about the pause of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine Tuesday, one Coast family was already living with a tragedy they believe was caused by the vaccine.
It started out as a normal day for 43-year-old Brad Malagarie of St. Martin. This busy father of seven spent the morning at his D’Iberville office before heading to get a Johnson & Johnson vaccine a little after noon.
He returned to work, and within three hours coworkers noticed he was unresponsive at his desk.
“They called me and said he had that vaccine and something is wrong, we think it’s a stroke,” said Celeste Foster O’Keefe, Malagarie’s aunt.
Malagarie was rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with a stroke. A blood clot had lodged in his left middle cerebral artery. O’Keefe, who is also Brad’s boss, said the family believes without a doubt that the vaccine caused the stroke.
“He’s a young, healthy 43-year-old, and I immediately thought it, and I said be sure to tell the doctors he took that J & J vaccine and that, to me, is what caused his stroke,” she said.
O’Keefe said her nephew’s only health issue before the vaccine was high blood pressure, which was controlled with medication.
Now, one week after the vaccine, he’s in critical but stable condition at Ochsner’s Medical Center in New Orleans, his wife Cori by his side. Their families’ lives changed tragically overnight.
“He can’t talk now and he can’t walk. He’s paralyzed on the right side. He knows who we are and he will just cry when he sees us,” O’Keefe said.
Doctors don’t know Malagarie’s prognosis for recovery yet but said it will likely take at least a year of rehab after he leaves the hospital.
“At least we want him to be able to communicate, to be able to walk and talk again, even if it’s not perfect,” O’Keefe said.
Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration announced that they were looking into unusual blood clots in six women between the ages of 18 and 48 how received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. One person died.
Of the 1.4 million vaccines administered in the Magnolia State, the Mississippi State Health Department said about 42,000 people received the J&J vaccine with no or mild side effects. Nationwide, more than 6.8 million doses of the J&J vaccine have been given.
“We’re going to be straightforward,” State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs said. “We have a broad range of vaccines that are highly available and effective, but we’re talking about a rare complication related to one of the three vaccines that we have.”
MSDH released the following statement to WLOX Tuesday after learning of Malagarie’s condition:
“The Mississippi State Department of Health is saddened to hear about the recent illness of Mr. Malagarie and wishes him well. The Agency is certainly investigating the situation. It is difficult, if not impossible, to assign a cause and effect at this time. It is important to note that strokes are not associated with this vaccine – instead a rare clotting syndrome has been identified. Further, adverse reaction has been between cited between six and 13 days after the vaccine was administered. Of the six noted cases, all are women between the age of 18 and 38. Yesterday, the Mississippi State Department of Health paused all administration of the J and J vaccine until further guidance from the FDA.”
If you’ve received the J&J vaccine, you’re asked to contact your doctor if you develop any of the following symptoms (within three weeks post-vaccination):
- severe headache
- abdominal pain/leg pain
- shortness of breath
O’Keefe said while Tuesday’s news came too late to help her nephew, the family now feels at least a small bit of relief knowing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is currently out of circulation.
“I’m glad it was taken off the market. If you can help one person, you’ve stopped a world of pain for that whole family. I mean, maybe it’s only been a handful of people affected, but when it’s your family, it doesn’t feel like a handful.”