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Severe Allergic Reactions to COVID-19 Vaccines Found to Be Rare

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Severe Allergic Reactions to COVID-19 Vaccines Found to Be Rare

Severe allergic reactions to the two most commonly given COVID-19 vaccines are rare, and when they do happen, they tend to be resolved quickly, according to a new study published in the journal JAMA.

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital looked at data on vaccinations given within their own hospital system, Mass General Brigham, to examine how common severe allergic reactions were to the first two approved vaccines in the United States — the two mRNA-based vaccines, widely known as the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. In the early weeks of the vaccine rollout in the United States, there were widespread news reports of a handful of severe allergic reactions that required urgent or emergency treatment, although no lasting symptoms or deaths were reported. But these reports left some researchers interested in exploring just how common such reactions are.

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For the latest study, the researchers were able to implement a policy throughout their health system that all employees who received a COVID-19 vaccine also complete a survey on any symptoms of an allergic reaction they may have experienced. This survey was designed to get information on both minor and severe allergic reactions, including what steps were taken to resolve them. Out of 52,805 employees who completed the survey after their first vaccination (both mRNA vaccines require two doses, spaced apart), about 4,000 indicated that they already had significant allergies to foods or medications — putting them, at least in theory, at an increased risk for an allergic vaccine reaction.

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COVID-19 vaccine allergies found to be rare

But based on the results of the survey, only about 2% of all employees who got vaccinated experienced an allergic reaction of any level of severity. And the rate of anaphylaxis — the most severe type of allergic reaction — was only 2.47 per 10,000 people, or 0.0247%. This makes severe allergic reactions to mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines about as rare as similar reactions to commonly prescribed antibiotics, as noted in a press release on the study from Massachusetts General Hospital.

It’s worth noting, though, that the rate of anaphylaxis found in this study — while very low — is still much higher than the official estimate from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has said the rate is between 0.025 and 0.11 per 10,000 people, or between 0.00025% and 0.0011%.

This difference suggests either that employees of Mass General Brigham are much more likely to experience an anaphylactic reaction to the vaccines than the wider vaccinated population, or that severe allergic reactions to the vaccines aren’t being sufficiently reported to the CDC.

Still, even the higher rate of severe reactions found in the study shows that the vaccines are extremely safe, and that anaphylaxis is extremely rare. What’s more, every case of anaphylaxis was resolved without extensive or invasive medical intervention. “All of our anaphylaxis cases recovered,” said study author Paige Wickner, MD, medical director of the Department of Quality and Safety at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in the press release. “No one had anaphylactic shock or required a breathing tube, even temporarily.”

If you have questions about whether you’re at higher risk for an allergic reaction to a COVID-19 vaccine, talk to your doctor about any precautions you should take before getting vaccinated.

Want to learn more about coronavirus and diabetes? Read our latest COVID-19 updates.

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Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips on social media

A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree from Harvard University. He is a former Editorial Assistant for Diabetes Self-Management and has years of experience covering diabetes and related health conditions. Phillips writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.

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