Health care providers should be ready to treat rare cases of allergic reactions after giving COVID-19 vaccines, federal medical officials said. The officials also stressed the importance of continuing to vaccinate patients, despite reports of the rare side effect.
There have been 29 cases of severe allergic reactions known as anaphylaxis following administration of a COVID-19 vaccine, officials from the CDC told reporters Wednesday.
The severe allergic reaction, which appears to be rare, can happen with either the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine or the rival Moderna product. The FDA granted emergency use authorizations for the vaccines last month.
Even with the cases seen to date, the COVID-19 vaccines remain a “good value proposition,” said Nancy Messonnier, MD, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization.
There have been about 11.1 cases of anaphylaxis per 1 million doses with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, which is higher than the estimated 1.3 cases per million doses with flu vaccines, she said. But the low risk must be balanced against the threat of COVID-19, which currently claims about 2,000 lives a day in the United States, she said. In addition, many people have reported long-term complications from COVID-19 even after they recover.
Kept in context, the data on anaphylaxis should not scare people away from getting a COVID-19 vaccine, she said.
“Their risk from COVID and poor outcomes is still more than the risk of a severe outcome from the vaccine,” Messonnier said. “And fortunately, we know how to treat anaphylaxis.”
Messonnier urged health care workers administering COVID-19 vaccines to be prepared.
“Anybody administering vaccines needs not just to have the EpiPen available, but frankly, to know how to use it,” Messonnier said.
The CDC on Wednesday also provided an update on anaphylaxis in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
The information included in the report was based on cases reported with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine — the first to get emergency use authorization from the FDA. On the call with reporters, CDC officials confirmed there have been additional reports since then and anaphylaxis has been reported with both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. CDC officials said they could not give a breakdown of how many cases were linked to each vaccine.
Between Dec. 14 and Dec. 23, 21 cases of anaphylaxis were submitted to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System after administration of a 1,893,360 first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Most reactions — 71% — occurred within 15 minutes of vaccination.
There have been a total of 4,393 reports of adverse events submitted to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS, the CDC reports. Among these, 175 were flagged for investigation as possible cases of severe allergic reaction, including anaphylaxis. The remainder were considered to be minor or could not be verified.
By Kerry Dooley Young