Health experts remain confident COVID vaccine is safe despite U.K. warning on allergies

Health experts in the United States sought to reassure Americans about the safety of a new coronavirus vaccine following a warning issued by British health officials Wednesday that people with a “significant history of allergic reactions” should not receive it.

England’s National Health Service issued the precaution after two health care workers who received the vaccine during the country’s historic rollout on Tuesday developed symptoms of “anaphylactoid reaction,” an allergic response related to anaphylaxis that can be life-threatening. The symptoms can include swelling, shortness of breath and a drop in blood pressure. The staffers, whose names were not released, each had a history of allergic reactions and carried adrenaline autoinjectors, or EpiPens. (It’s unclear if they utilized them in this case.) Both workers are said to be “recovering well.”

The new warning stated that any person with a significant allergic reaction to a vaccine, medicine or food — such as a previous history of anaphylactoid reaction, or those who have been advised to carry an EpiPen — should not receive the vaccine.

Severe allergic reactions can be treated with epinephrine, which is generally readily available in hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices where the vaccine will be given.

On Tuesday, the U.K. became the first Western country to deliver a COVID-19 vaccine to the general public. The first shots were given to people over 80 along with nursing home workers and vaccination staff, including the two who experienced reactions. Several thousand people received them.

British regulators last week authorized the use of the vaccine, which was developed by U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech and comes in a two-dose regimen, with the second given 21 days after the first. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is scheduled to hold a public meeting Thursday to decide on an emergency use authorization for the shot.

William Shakespeare, 81, receives the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at University Hospital in Coventry, Britain, Tuesday. (Jacob King/Pool via Reuters)
William Shakespeare, 81, receives the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at University Hospital in Coventry, England, on Tuesday. (Jacob King/Pool via Reuters)

If the authorization is approved, which most experts predict, the first doses of the vaccine could be administered as soon as this weekend.

Health experts in the U.S. said the U.K. warning should not deter Americans from getting the vaccine.

“We really don’t have enough information yet,” said Dr. Uché Blackstock, CEO of Advancing Health Equity and a Yahoo News medical contributor. “We don’t know if their reactions were just coincidence or actually caused by the vaccine.”

Blackstock noted that data from a clinical trial of the vaccine, which included more than 44,000 participants, did not show evidence of such cases. A briefing released Tuesday by the FDA reaffirmed the results of the clinical trial, which found that the vaccine was 95 percent effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19.

“These are two people out of tens of thousands of people,” she added. “So I wouldn’t worry yet.”

Dr. Dara Kass, a Columbia University associate professor of emergency medicine and a Yahoo News medical contributor, agreed.

“As with everything in life, it means going slowly, being deliberate and tracking outcomes,” Kass said. “We don’t know what this means.”


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