Many people are concerned about the safety and side effects of COVID-19 vaccines since they were developed in record time and there are no long-term studies to shed light on these issues.
According to Nature, while participants in the clinical trials of the vaccines reported side effects such as muscle aches, fever, and headaches, we are now learning of rare, allergic reactions to the drugs.
The two mRNA vaccines approved in the U.S. made by Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech triggered 372 non-serious reactions out of a million doses, according to the U.S. Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). Experts say this number is lower than the 80% reported in clinical trials because the data from VAERS relies on people self-reporting their symptoms. The data shows that most adverse reactions, mainly injection site pain, fatigue, and headache occur after the second dose of mRNA vaccines.
In the U.K., 4,000 people vaccinated with the AstraZeneca adenovirus two-dose vaccine reported adverse reactions out of one million doses. According to Nature, not many people have received their second booster shot because the U.K. is using its supplies to administer one dose to as many people as possible. But early data from the European Medicines Agency suggests that in this vaccine, the side effects from the second shot are milder.
More severe or unusual side effects, including death, are rare. Investigators determined that 33 elderly residents in a Norwegian facility died of normal causes unrelated to the vaccine, according to the World Health Organization. Experts note that other cases of death in countries like India and the U.S. have not been linked to the vaccine, since many of the fatalities were reported days or weeks after getting the shot. Also, those people most likely to have been vaccinated were in high-risk populations.
What researchers are noting, according to Nature, is the high rate of anaphylactic reactions to the vaccine, which, although still rare, is three times the rate triggered by other vaccines such as the flu shot. Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia, notes that anaphylaxis is treatable with a shot of epinephrine. Anaphylaxis is a potentially life-threating response to an allergen triggering symptoms of dizziness, difficulty breathing, wheezing, and a fast heart rate.
“I wish that SARS-CoV-2 cold be immediately treated with a shot of epinephrine,” he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that individuals who have previously experienced severe reactions to vaccines or other injectable drugs can still get the COVID-19 vaccine but should discuss the risks with their physicians and must be monitored for 30 minutes afterward, according to STAT News.
Amanda Cohn, of the CDC’s vaccine planning unit, said that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine consists of messenger RNA and four lipid nanoparticles. One of these particles is called polyethylene glycol, or PEG, which could be the allergic component of the vaccine, and has been previously linked to anaphylaxis, according to Forbes.
Both the Food and Drug Administration and the CDC said they would carefully monitor allergic reactions to the drugs and would adjust their guidance and recommendations as new data develops, according to STAT News. Researchers are already working on ways to deliver mRNA drugs that do not cause allergic reactions, according to Nature.
“We know that these vaccines have the potential to end this pandemic and we know it is critical for healthcare providers to have confidence that these vaccines are very safe,” said Cohn.
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