Ms. Neckelmann said she told her husband’s story to make people aware of the vaccine’s possible “side effects,” and “that it is not good for everyone, and in this case destroyed a beautiful life, a perfect family, and has affected so many people in the community.”
Dr. Jerry L. Spivak, an expert on blood disorders at Johns Hopkins University, who was not involved in Dr. Michael’s care, said that based on Ms. Neckelmann’s description, “I think it is a medical certainty that the vaccine was related.”
“This is going to be very rare,” said Dr. Spivak, an emeritus professor of medicine. But he added, “It happened and it could happen again.”
Even so, he said, it should not stop people from being vaccinated.
The condition Dr. Michael developed, acute immune thrombocytopenia, occurs when the immune system attacks a patient’s own platelets, or attacks the cells in the bone marrow that makes platelets. Covid itself can cause the condition in some patients.
A long list of medicines, including quinine and certain antibiotics, can also cause the disorder in some people. Dr. Spivak described the reactions as “idiosyncratic,” meaning they strike certain individuals without rhyme or reason, possibly based on unknown genetic traits, and there is no way to predict if someone is susceptible.
“If you vaccinate enough people, things will happen,” he said.
Vaccines stimulate the immune system, and in theory could, in rare cases, cause it to mistakenly identify some of a patient’s own cells as enemy invaders that should be destroyed.
Dr. Spivak said several things made the vaccine the mostly likely suspect in Dr. Michael’s case. The disorder came on quickly after the shot, and was so severe that it made his platelet count “rocket” down — a pattern like that in some cases brought on by drugs such as quinine. In addition, Dr. Michael was healthy and young, compared with most people who develop chronic forms of the ailment from other causes. Finally, most patients — 70 percent — are women. A sudden case in a man, especially a relatively young, healthy one, suggests a recent trigger.