Allergic reactions to COVID-19 vaccine likely to be extremely rare, UNC doctor says

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- As the US Food and Drug Administration considers whether to authorize emergency use of Pfizer and BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine, medical experts are paying close attention to reports of allergic reactions to the vaccine.

In the United Kingdom, two healthcare workers reported allergic reactions after receiving the first dose of the vaccine. Both had a history of severe reactions and carried an EpiPen -- according to Pfizer one had a food allergy to eggs, cheesecake, lemons and limes and the other had an allergy to certain medicines.

US health officials are now worried that these reports could discourage the millions of Americans with allergies from taking the COVID-19 vaccine. However, the FDA has yet to decide whether they will advise those with allergies to take the vaccine.

In an interview with the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Anthony Fauci said he didn't think these reports should prevent people from getting the vaccine.

"Now that we've got this heads up, what you do is what you do with everything in clinical medicine: you stay alert for it," Fauci said in the interview. "I don't think it should mitigate against people getting vaccinated because we don't know the extent."

Dr. Edwin Kim, the medical director of the UNC Allergy and Immunology Clinic, agrees with Fauci and said researchers expect to see some reactions to almost every vaccine.

"We do know that there are allergic reactions that happen to pretty much every vaccine that is out there, but thankfully these are very, very, very rare events," Kim said.

While he said that it's not immediately clear to what ingredient people are having allergic reactions, Kim said nothing stands out to him as something that would be high risk.

WATCH: Dr. Kim explains why you shouldn't worry about allergic reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine
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While he said that it's not immediately clear to what ingredient people are having allergic reactions, Kim said nothing stands out to him as something that would be high risk.



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Though the FDA has yet to determine whether people with a history of severe allergies should get the vaccine, Kim said he recommends people who have had a reaction to a vaccine in the past continue to watch the data before getting a shot.

"And I want to be careful here not to say to not get it, but just to pause so we have more time to gather information and truly understand what this risk might be."

But for himself and his children, two of whom have a history of anaphylactic reactions to food, Kim said he will absolutely get the vaccine.

"I have no concerns at all for them, I absolutely want to get them vaccinated and protected against this COVID, which is again such a well known and scary risk for all of us," Kim said.

He added that the two patients in the UK have recovered from their responses and that there is good medication available to treat anaphylactic reactions: antihistamines and epinephrine (the EpiPen, for example).

He does feel that Pfizer should continue to test their vaccine specifically on people with a history of allergic reactions, but caveated that COVID-19 is a much larger risk and he feels the vaccine is extremely safe and effective.

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"I do worry that that would slow down the process because time is of the essence to try to get folks out there and get them vaccinated," Kim said. "And I do worry also that this would add to the anxiety already out there around the vaccine."

Kim said even if reactions happen at the predicted rate, they are still potentially much less of a risk than catching COVID-19, especially for those with preexisting conditions that make them more prone to severe disease.

"I really do feel that this is a very safe medication that has gone through all the right channels to ensure that it is safe and it is effective," Kim said. "I think this is really going to be that first gigantic step towards trying to get us all as a community and as a planet back to normal."
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