COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio Department of Health is monitoring the investigation into what may have caused a 21-year-old University of Cincinnati student to die suddenly last Sunday, around a day after he received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Alicia Shoults, a spokeswoman for the state health department, said the agency is waiting for the completion of a Hamilton County coroner’s report, and “if necessary,” further guidance from the CDC.
If an adverse effect from a vaccine is reported to the CDC, it then leads to a federal investigation into whether the negative effects were coincidental or somehow related to the vaccine, Shoults said.
The student, John Foley, died unexpectedly on Sunday, according to an obituary his family published through a Columbus funeral home. He was a junior studying medical sciences, and his mother, Mary Beth Foley, is an attorney with the state police and fire pension fund. A memorial service is planned on Friday.
There are few available details about Foley’s death. There’s no available evidence that suggests his death is related to the vaccine.
But his family issued a statement on Wednesday asking for patience and privacy after Alex Berenson, a writer who’s gained prominence for promoting fringe, skeptical views about the coronavirus pandemic, lockdown measures and vaccinations, used his social media account to share information about Foley’s death. That included publishing a private message from Foley’s mother sharing the news with friends that said the family suspected a “bad COVID vaccination reaction,” but wasn’t sure.
“We understand many want to know more about his death – we do, too – but we ask people to understand that this is the time for our family to grieve in private,” said the family’s public statement, shared by Mark Weaver, a crisis communications consultant who said the family isn’t granting media interviews.
Foley’s death comes amid heightened public concern about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Federal officials on Tuesday paused administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, citing concerns about a possible complication that in six documented instances – out of nearly 7 million people who were vaccinated – of people suffering dangerous blood clots after getting the vaccine.
Medical experts have said the pause is meant to make time to investigate the blood clots to see whether they are related to the vaccine. Public health officials and medical experts have said vaccines are a key part of ending the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to the deaths of 18,917 Ohioans and more than 564,000 deaths nationally.
Foley’s medical profile doesn’t match the CDC’s documented instances of the blood clots. All six occurred in women, and the median age was 32 years old. The onset of the side effects came six to 13 days after they received Johnson & Johnson vaccines, according to federal officials. It’s also still unclear whether the blood clots are connected to the vaccines, or coincidental. Side effects, including extremely rare ones, are known to be associated with many vaccines, drugs and other common medical treatments.
An official at the Hamilton County Coroner’s Office said Wednesday that it could be days or weeks before an autopsy is complete. No additional information was available, he said.
But a log of emergency calls published by the Cincinnati Fire Department shows there was an emergency call at an address on Sunday night for a “possible DOA” that matched an address the coroner’s office had on file. Cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer has issued a public-records request for information associated with the call, but that request has not yet been completed. A police spokesman said Thursday there is a backlog for fulfilling public records requests.
Officials with the University of Cincinnati and UC Health, the hospital system that administered a mass-vaccination site at the UC campus over the weekend, didn’t respond to requests for comment, nor did a spokesperson for the Hamilton County Health Department. Marla Fuller, a spokeswoman for the Cincinnati Health Department, said Thursday her agency has no information about the death.