COVID-19 vaccines have been at the forefront of the media, and clinicians administered the first vaccinations in December 2020. However, the vaccines produced by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna raised public concern following the reports of potential allergic reactions.
As of the 4th January 2021, 4,563,260 Americans have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. According to an expert team of allergists at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), there have been at least ten reported cases of allergic reactions to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and two cases to the Moderna vaccine. This is a rate of 1.3 per 100,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
To address the concerns regarding anaphylactic allergic reaction, the team of experts from MGH examined all the current, relevant information. They then published their review in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice.
The researchers advise that the small number of people who suffered from an allergic reaction did so within the 15 minutes of observation post-vaccination. They also report that the individuals were treated quickly, and all symptoms resolved. To date, there have been no deaths or long-term consequences following allergic reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine.
After initial allergic reactions in healthcare workers, individuals with any history of anaphylaxis to food or medicine were advised not to have the COVID-19 vaccine. However, following further review, this advice has now been changed.
Currently, clinical advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding allergies and COVID-19 vaccination stands as follows:
- If you have had a severe or immediate allergic reaction to any ingredient in an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, you should not get either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna mRNA COVID-19 vaccine.
- If you suffer from a severe or immediate allergic reaction when getting the first dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine,you should not get the second dose.
- People who are allergic to polyethylene glycol (PEG) or polysorbate should not get either of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.
- Every individual who receives a vaccination should be monitored for at least 15 minutes post-vaccination.
- Every individual who has previously had a severe or immediate allergic reaction to a vaccine or injectable therapy should be monitored for at least 30 minutes post-vaccination.
- If you have a severe or immediate allergic reaction to foods, animals, environment, latex, oral medication, or you have a family history of severe allergic reactions – you should still get vaccinated.
- For people who have had an allergic reaction to other vaccinations – you should discuss this with your doctor so that they can safely assess whether you should receive the COVID-19 vaccination.
The expert team reassures in the review that people with a history of food or medication allergies can safely receive a COVID-19 vaccine. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines do not contain common allergens such as eggs, specific preservatives, or latex. The full review provides detailed advice to ensure that individuals with an allergy history can safely receive the COVID-19 vaccine. For those who develop a reaction to the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, the allergists also outline steps to administer the second dose safely. This advice from expert allergists is reassuring in the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccination program.
Written by Helen Massy, BSc
Banerji, A., Wickner, P., Saff, R., Stone, C., Robinson, L., Long, A., Wolfson, A., Williams, P., Khan, D., Phillips, E. and Blumenthal, K., 2020. mRNA Vaccines to Prevent COVID-19 Disease and Reported Allergic Reactions: Current Evidence and Approach. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice,.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2021. COVID-19 And Your Health. [online] Available at: <https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/safety/allergic-reaction.html> [Accessed 5 January 2021].
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