Story at a glance

  • During the first week and a half of the vaccine rollout, more than 20 recipients of the COVID-19 vaccines reported anaphylaxis following inoculation.
  • Experts say the benefits of receiving the vaccine still outweigh the potential risks of COVID-19.

As the COVID-19 vaccine deployment becomes more streamlined and efficient, the question of whether or not to agree to get vaccinated has Americans divided. While public health officials urge people who qualify to get vaccinated, reports of adverse anaphylactic reactions deter some individuals. 

Burgeoning trends of mass hesitancy to get vaccinated pose a serious hurdle to cultivating mass immunity and returning to pre-pandemic normalcy. 

In an effort to tackle these concerns, officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discussed details of COVID-19 vaccine safety on Wednesday, pointing out that data reveals only 11.1 out of 1 million doses administered report an adverse anaphylaxis side effect.


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The data referenced 21 confirmed anaphylaxis cases among the first 1.9 million COVID-19 vaccine doses administered. And 17 of these patients had previous allergic reactions prior to receiving a dose of the vaccine. 

“Our vaccine safety systems haven’t picked up any worrisome signals. This means that right now, the known and potential benefits of the current COVID-19 vaccines outweigh the known and potential risks of getting COVID-19,” Nancy Messonnier, the Director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said.

She did note, however, that the influenza vaccine only sees 1.3 anaphylactic responses per 1 million doses administered.

“The anaphylaxis rate per COVID-19 vaccines may seem high compared to flu vaccines, but I want to reassure you that this is still a rare outcome,” she noted. The reactions are seen with both Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines, prompting the CDC to advise people with a history of severe allergic reactions to forgo the vaccine. 

All patients who suffered from anaphylactic responses following vaccination recovered. Many patients needed an epinephrine pen, and some required hospitalization.

Those who do have a history of immediate allergic reactions following inoculations in general are advised to remain under medical observation for 30 minutes following a COVID-19 vaccination. 

CDC officials acknowledged a distinction between small, relatively common allergic reactions to common occurrences like insect stings and foods and life threatening anaphylactic reactions that require emergency care. 

To account for this gray area, officials encourage patients to consult with doctors and vaccinators in addition to staying under supervision for half an hour following vaccination.

“There is a big difference from somebody who had a mild allergic reaction in their childhood versus somebody that had a severe allergic reaction last week, and it’s going to be really important to...have a clinician help a patient exercise judgement as opposed to completely hard and fast rules,” Messonnier commented.

When asked about the proportion of allergic reactions between the Pfizer vaccine versus the Moderna vaccine, Messonnier conceded that more anaphylactic cases are from the Pfizer vaccine, largely due to Pfizer achieving emergency use authorization before Moderna. Hence, more doses of the Pfizer vaccine have been distributed.

“At this point we really don’t have enough data to say that there is any difference in the risk, and that’s why our recommendations apply to both vaccines,” Messonnier said.

Public messaging to health care workers is critical on several levels: staying safe as they continue to treat COVID-19 patients, helping contribute to broader public immunity, and educating patients.

“These are safe and effective vaccines, and we have good data to show that. I really want to get that message out to health care workers.”

Allergic responses haven't had a significant affect on distribution plans. 


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Published on Jan 06, 2021