As tens of thousands of health care personnel and nursing home residents were vaccinated with the newly-approved Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine this week, two medical workers in Alaska had allergic reactions to the shot.
The two staffers, both at the same hospital in Alaska, developed allergy symptoms just minutes after being inoculated with the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. The hospital said that this would not change their vaccine rollout plans, and the workers still urged others to get vaccinated.
The first reaction occurred Tuesday in a middle-aged woman with no history of allergic reactions to medications. Within ten minutes of receiving the vaccine at Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau, she developed a rash on her face and upper body and experienced shortness of breath and an elevated heart rate, The New York Times reported.
The hospital was following federal guidelines, which advise monitoring everyone who receives the COVID vaccine for 15 minutes if they have no history of allergic reactions, and for 30 minutes if they do, and the worker was quickly treated with epinephrine. She stayed in the intensive care unit overnight to monitor her symptoms.
Because of her severe allergic reaction to the vaccine, she will not receive the second dose of the vaccine, which is given three weeks later to bring its effectiveness up to 95 percent.
“She kept a very positive attitude,” said Nobel Anderson, a doctor who treated her overnight, according to the Washington Post. “She was excited that she got the first dose and was disappointed that she will not be getting the second dose. And she encouraged all of us to press on.”
The second worker who had an allergic reaction, a male staff member, had a milder reaction ten minutes after being inoculated at the same hospital. He developed eye puffiness, lightheadedness and a scratchy throat and was treated with epinephrine, Pepcid and Benadryl, and felt back to normal within an hour.
Both workers said they don’t want people to worry about the vaccine based on their reactions — the female worker is “still encouraging her colleagues to get the vaccine,” the hospital said in a press release, and the male worker “does not want his experience to have a negative impact on his colleagues lining up for the vaccine.”
Four hundred Bartlett Regional Hospital staff have signed up for the COVID-19 vaccine, and 144 have been vaccinated so far. Tens of thousands more across the U.S. received their first doses of Pfizer’s vaccine this week, and no other allergic reactions have been reported.
There were no allergic reactions during Pfizer’s clinical trials, which included more than 44,000 volunteers. In the U.K., where vaccinations began last week, two health care workers, both with a history of severe allergies, developed brief allergic reactions to the Pfizer vaccine. As of Wednesday, 137,897 people in the U.K. have received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
After the two reactions in the U.K., the U.S. Centers for Disease Control released a guidance saying that people with a history of severe reactions to vaccines “may still receive vaccination, but they should be counseled about the unknown risks of developing a severe allergic reaction.”
As vaccinations with Pfizer’s formulation continue this week, the Food and Drug Administration is expected to approve a second COVID-19 vaccine, from Moderna. Like Pfizer’s, it requires two doses, and clinical trials showed that it was around 95 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 illness.
Both vaccines come at a vital time, with COVID-19 infections out of control in the U.S. On Wednesday, a record 245,033 Americans tested positive for the virus, and the number of deaths soared to another record-high of 3,611.
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