(17 Dec 2020) As COVID-19 vaccinations roll out to more and more people, health authorities are keeping close watch for any unexpected side effects.
On Tuesday, a health worker in Alaska suffered a severe allergic reaction after receiving the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. She was in the hospital under observation while another worker, vaccinated Wednesday, has recovered. Doctors already knew to be on the lookout after Britain reported two similar cases last week.
Dr. Mitchell H. Grayson, who works in Columbus, Ohio, is the Director of the Division of Allergy and Immunology and Professor of Pediatrics at Nationwide Children's Hospital and The Ohio State University.
He's also advisor to Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. He says it's hard to say who is at risk with so little data and even whether the reactions were officially from an allergy.
"The relative risk right now of having a reaction to the vaccine is extremely low, as far as we can tell. And so you may have an increased risk, but your risk of getting COVID, your risk of having a bad outcome from COVID is much greater."
"In the scheme of things, the right answer is get the vaccine," he said. "And if you're at all worried, talk to your provider."
In the U.S., vaccine recipients are supposed to hang around after the injection in case signs of an allergy appear and they need immediate treatment — exactly what happened when the health worker in Juneau became flushed and short of breath 10 minutes after the shot. The second worker experienced eye puffiness, light headedness and scratchy throat.
Allergies are always a question with a new medical product, but monitoring COVID-19 vaccines for any other, unexpected side effects is a bigger challenge than usual. It's not just because so many people need to be vaccinated over the next year. Never before have so many vaccines made in different ways converged at the same time — and it's possible that one shot option will come with different side effects than another.
The first vaccine beginning widespread use in the U.S. and many Western countries, made by Pfizer Inc. and Germany's BioNTech, and a second option expected soon from competitor Moderna Inc. both are made the same way. The Food and Drug Administration says huge studies of each have uncovered no major safety risks.
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