Queen’s research shedding new light on blood clots

KINGSTON, ON— Queen’s professor Dr. Maha Othman (Biomedical and Molecular Science), has research going as far back as 15 years ago that is once again being discussed, after reports of blood clots associated with certain COVID-19 vaccines began occurring. Vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT) is a very rare side effect that happens in a subset of the population following AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccinations.

“I must emphasize that the incidence of VITT is extremely low and the risk of death and serious outcomes of COVID-19, including thrombosis, far outweigh the risk of VITT,” says Dr. Othman.

“Public education and transparency are key. The pandemic is still evolving and research findings are updated daily so we need to be both patient and open to new theories.”

Those two vaccines use adenovirus as the vehicle to deliver DNA code for viral protein, which triggers the immune system to create the protective antibodies against COVID-19. Dr. Othman thinks adenovirus must play a role, at least partially, into why VITT shows up after those vaccines.  

Her paper from 2007 that looked at blood clots and adenovirus has been cited in nearly all of the papers coming out about VITT. In a span of two months this past spring, over 30 articles were published on VITT.

Dr. Othman recently collaborated with an expert international group of hematologists, laboratory scientists, virologists and vaccinologists, including David Lillicrap—Queen’s professor and Canada Research Chair in Molecular Hemostasis—and led a new paper in the Journal of Thrombosis and Haemostasis. It looks at VITT and discusses seven potential reasons behind the condition.

“The good news is we now know how to diagnose and how to treat the condition. By the end of this year, we are likely to establish a pathogenic model that helps us better understand and even prevent VITT,” says Dr. Othman.

“I still believe the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks of having side effects of vaccines, and I encourage people to get their vaccination if not already done so to protect themselves and their communities.”