GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The family of an Ionia-area wife and mother says she died due to complications after receiving the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. 

Anne VanGeest, 35, died April 19 at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s in Grand Rapids. 

“It is with profound sadness that we share the news of Anne’s passing as the result of complications after receiving the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine,” her family said in a Thursday morning statement released through a Grand Rapids public relations firm.

The statement from a representative of VanGeest’s family stopped short of saying she died from the J&J vaccine, instead saying she died “as the result of complications after (emphasis added) receiving the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.”

The statement went on to describe VanGeest as a “loving mother, wife, sister and daughter.” 

“An active member of the animal rescue community, Annie will be remembered as a fierce advocate, a master-multi-tasker and a caring friend by her colleagues, fellow volunteers and family,” read the statement.  

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed to VanGeest’s family that her death was reported through the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), a vaccine safety system managed by the CDC and FDA.

“We did receive a VAERS report concerning (Anne’s) case. It was filed by her healthcare provider,” wrote a member of the CDC Immunization Safety Office in an email exchange with one of VanGeest’s relatives.

“VAERS accepts reports of possible side effects (also called ‘adverse events’) following vaccination. The system is not designed to determine whether a reported adverse event was caused by the vaccine, but serves as an early warning system and helps CDC and FDA identify areas for further study. When VAERS receives reports of serious illness or death after vaccination, VAERS staff contact the hospital where the patient was treated to obtain the associated medical records to better understand the adverse event. They do not routinely contact the family.”

Neither the FDA nor the CDC would confirm to News 8 that it’s investigating Van Geest’s death.

When Target 8 reached out to Johnson & Johnson last week, it provided a statement in response but did not directly address VanGeest’s case:

“There is no greater priority than the safety and well-being of the people we serve, and we carefully review reports of adverse events in individuals receiving our medicines or vaccines. Any report about an individual receiving our COVID-19 vaccine and our assessment of that report is shared with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other appropriate health authorities. This is part of the established process to inform health authorities’ comprehensive surveillance programs that monitor the overall safety of medicines, as well the vaccines authorized for use against this pandemic.”

Johnson & Johnson

VanGeest’s family said she received the vaccine April 8. She later developed a persistent headache, which is one of the symptoms reported in women under 50 who suffered a rare complication of the J&J vaccine.  

On April 13, the CDC ordered a pause in the administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after six reports of a “rare and severe type of blood clot,” called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis or CVST.  

Federal health officials have recorded 15 complaints of J&J vaccine recipients — mostly women under the age of 50 — who developed dangerous blood clots. Three died. But with more than 8 million doses administered, federal health officials decided last week that the benefits of the vaccine outweighed the risks and lifted an 11-day pause on administration of the shot. Younger women who are concerned about the J&J shot can look for opportunities to get Pfizer or Moderna instead.

Anne VanGeest’s death certificate lists the manner of death as “natural” and the cause as “acute subarachnoid hemorrhage non-traumatic,” which is described as “bleeding in the area between the brain and the thin tissues that cover it.”

University of Michigan Dr. Geoff Barnes, who was not involved in VanGeest’s care and has no knowledge of the circumstances surrounding her death, told News 8 that a “subarachnoid hemorrhage” can occur as a result of the J&J complication.

Barnes explained what federal investigators found in the rare blood-clotting cases connected to the J&J vaccine.  

“(The patients) developed a blood clot in one of the veins that drained out of the brain, but in addition they also were found to have really low platelet counts,” he told News 8. “(Low platelets) is one of the elements in blood that helps it clot. And so these patients were at risk for both bleeding and clotting.”

Barnes said the patients developed the clotting complication between four and 28 days after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

According to the CDC, symptoms of the potentially fatal complication may include:

  • Severe or persistent headaches or blurred vision
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Leg swelling
  • Persistent abdominal pain
  • Easy bruising or tiny blood spots under the skin beyond the injection site

“It’s really critical that health care providers be aware that this condition exists even though it’s exceedingly rare. Because we need to know how to step in and diagnose it, and how to treat it appropriately,” said Dr. Barnes, who noted that the CDC and FDA have developed specific steps to guide health care providers in the diagnosis and treatment of such cases.  

Metro Health – University of Michigan announced Monday that it’s not administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to women under 50 “as an extra precaution.”

Barnes noted the one-dose J&J vaccine is particularly useful for people who don’t have ready access to health care and might not be able to return for a second dose.

News 8 asked Barnes if he would recommend the J&J vaccine to women under age 50.

“If I had a family member, a younger family member who was a woman who told me that she was really concerned about having to go get two shots, but was willing to get one shot, then I would absolutely encourage her to go and get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. I think the risk here is exceedingly small,” he replied. “The risks associated with getting COVID-19 and the many different things that it can do to our body, those are much higher. That’s the thing I’m far more concerned about, so I would definitely support a family member who told me that they wanted to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because of convenience or access. I would absolutely support them doing that.”

While VanGeest lived in Ionia County’s Easton Township, her death certificate was filed in Kent County because she died at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s in Grand Rapids.

GoFundMe account to help cover funeral expenses and support VanGeest’s family says she left behind four children. It recalled her as an animal lover. It says she worked at C-Snip, which provides spaying and neutering for pets, and volunteered with Carol’s Ferals.

The statement from VanGeest’s family asked for privacy as they mourn the wife and mother’s death and celebrate her life.  

It suggested memorial contributions in Annie’s name may be made to C-Snip and LuvnPupz of Grand Rapids.