Remember when we all got sent home from work or school because of COVID-19 last March? You were in good company if you thought it would only last for a few weeks or months, and then we’d all be back to normal. After all, none of us have experienced anything like this in our lifetime (except maybe a few centenarians who lived through the Spanish flu pandemic). Now, here we are nearly a year later with much of our lives still halted by the virus.
Still, in light of the fact that vaccines often take 10-15 years to develop, it’s pretty miraculous that in under a year, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have reached tens of millions of Americans. The end is in sight!
As the vaccine rolls out, however, you may be nervous about potential adverse reactions. Indeed, a very small percentage of people who have received the vaccine have had an allergic reaction to it. In this article, we’ll take a look at the allergy-related risks of the vaccine.
How common are adverse reactions?
The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (managed jointly by the CDC and FDA) allows healthcare providers to report any adverse reactions to the COVID-19 vaccines. The most recent report from the CDC detected 2.1 cases of anaphylaxis per million doses of the Moderna vaccine and 6.2 cases per million doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
A small number of people who developed anaphylaxis in reaction to the COVID vaccines needed to be hospitalized, and an even smaller contingent needed to be intubated to assist their breathing. As of this writing, there have been no reports of fatal cases of anaphylaxis associated with COVID vaccines administered in the U.S.
What is anaphylaxis?
Anaphylaxis typically occurs within minutes of the allergic reaction and can cause:
- Low blood pressure
- Difficulty breathing due to constricted airways
If it is not treated right away, anaphylaxis may prove fatal.
How quickly does the reaction occur?
In the vast majority of cases, the anaphylactic reaction to the COVID vaccine occurred within the first 15 minutes of vaccination.
Who is at risk for an anaphylactic reaction to the COVID vaccine?
To answer this, it is helpful to reference a CDC study of 4 million people who were issued the Moderna vaccine between December 21 and January 10. Ten of the people who received these doses reported an anaphylactic reaction. Nine of these 10 people had a history of allergies, and five had experienced an anaphylactic reaction.
The COVID vaccines are not currently recommended for people with severe allergies to any component of the vaccines. You can see the Pfizer vaccine ingredients here and the Moderna vaccine ingredients here.
People who have previously had a severe reaction to any other type of vaccine or injectable should consult their doctor before getting the vaccine.
Are there any extra precautions I can take?
If you have a history of severe anaphylactic reactions, start by letting the clinic know about your history when you schedule your vaccination appointment. You should also make sure that they are properly prepared to handle an anaphylactic reaction. Ask whether they have the proper equipment to take your vital signs as well as an anaphylaxis kit with an epinephrine auto injector.
What if I have severe reactions to other things?
People who have had an anaphylactic reaction to food, oral medications, insects or other things that are not in the vaccine may still get vaccinated, according to the CDC. However, you should let your vaccination provider know if you have allergies. If you have had an anaphylactic reaction to any kind of allergen in the past, they may ask you to stay put for 30 minutes after getting the vaccine so that you can be observed. If you have concerns about how any of your allergies might interact with the vaccine, see your doctor.
What if I am pregnant or breastfeeding?
Specific data is not currently available on the safety of the vaccine for pregnant or breastfeeding women. However, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has said that the vaccine should NOT be withheld from those who are pregnant or breastfeeding. (And, as with other vaccines, it is believed that the COVID vaccine may pass some protection on to breastfeeding children through maternal antibodies.)
On this topic, it is important to remember that pregnant people are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID, and their unborn child may also be affected negatively by the virus. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, talk to your physician about getting the vaccine.
What are other, non-allergy-related side effects of the vaccines?
In reaction to the shot, you may experience the following symptoms for 1 to 3 days:
- Pain and swelling at the injection site
The flu-like symptoms may be stronger with the second vaccine as a result of your immune system ramping up, but most people still report that they are mild.
Weighing the risks
There’s always some nervousness associated with trying something new, and many people are concerned about the speed with which the vaccines have rolled out. However, the minuscule percentage of reactions thus far is extremely heartening. And the CDC reminds us that the very small risks for people who are not allergic to components of the vaccine should be weighed against the risks of the virus itself. As of this writing, nearly 350,000 deaths have been associated with COVID-19, and “persistent, serious complications” are being reported by COVID survivors, including those who only experienced very mild symptoms.
At AllergyEasy, we connect primary care physicians with a turnkey allergy treatment program so that they can help their patients break free from allergies. We have many capable doctors around the country who can provide you with allergy relief and advise you about whether your allergies expose you to a greater risk for side effects from the COVID vaccines. Contact us today to find an AllergyEasy physician near you.