You may have read that the unprecedented introduction of COVID-19 vaccines in the UK and US has seen some early speed bumps. In the little over a week since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an emergency permit to Pfizer and BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for certain groups at highest risk of COVID, such as health workers and nursing home residents, there have already been problems with distribution and disparate , confusing policies about who exactly should the first doses go to.
None of this is unexpected, given the very complex nature of this project and the many stakeholders that need to work together to make a vaccine campaign successful. But one thing that may give Americans a pause as the exercise progresses is the wave of early reports of side effects experienced by some of the first people in the UK and US to receive doses of Pfizer’s COVID vaccine, including health professionals.
At least two health care providers in Alaska had serious reactions, including one requiring hospitalization. Two other health workers in the UK developed similar symptoms, including anaphylactic symptoms, but most workers recovered from their symptoms quickly, including one in just over an hour. More of these stories will inevitably trickle in as the vaccine is so new and the sheer number of people, all with different biological peccadilloes, are expected to end up taking it. (We’ll see in the coming months exactly when other groups can get a chance, which will likely depend on where you live.)
An allergic reaction certainly sounds like an unpleasant prospect, but if it’s keeping you from getting a vaccine, it shouldn’t. Instead, keep an eye out for potential side effects and prepare to potentially take a day or two off from work if they turn out to be severe.
While side effects are possible and can severe, they tend not to be debilitating in most people without a serious history of allergies or inflammatory problems. There is ample evidence for this, both from the large-scale clinical studies conducted by Pfizer and Moderna and from the conclusions of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
That said, side effects are fairly widespread, according to the CDC report. By far the most common is some pain at the site of the first injection of the COVID vaccine, which is usually put in the arm. In a trial of the Pfizers vaccine versus a placebo, more than 83% of people ages 18 to 55 reported experiencing this side effect.
Only 51.1% of study participants reported that the injection site pain was mild; another 30% said it was moderate. Severe and higher was limited to 1%. Other side effects such as redness and swelling were much rarer. Other common problems, which lasted about a day on average, according to the CDC, were fatigue, headaches, and muscle pain (although age groups can vary from which mild to moderate side effects occur).
Healthy skepticism is understandable. But health care experts note that getting a COVID vaccine is still more important than running the risk of getting COVID-19 yourself. The latter option is much precarious.
An expert, Dr. Melanie Swift of the Mayo Clinic recently shared The Washington City Times that its own health system has developed a grid of side effects related to COVID vaccines versus those related to active coronavirus infections, to keep as much depleted workforce in place as possible.
So how do these (generally) mild to moderate, (usually) short side effects relate to the symptoms that hit you when you actually contract the disease?
“When the virus causes symptoms, the most common are fever, body aches, dry cough, fatigue, chills, headache, sore throat, loss of appetite, and loss of sense of smell,” said a guide from Harvard Medical School. “In some people, COVID-19 causes more serious symptoms such as a high fever, severe cough and shortness of breath, often indicating pneumonia. People with COVID-19 also experience neurological symptoms, gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms, or both. These can occur with or without respiratory symptoms. “
There have been more than 17.5 million coronavirus cases and 315,000 COVID-related deaths in the US to date. That’s more than five times the deaths in the highest range of the CDC’s estimates for annual flu-related deaths since 2010.
Those figures make an even stronger case for taking a chance on the vaccine.
Lake healthcare and Big Pharma coverage from The Washington City Times:
- The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine is dangerously flawed. Science and data can solve it
- How hackers can undermine successful vaccine rollouts
- “There is just no trust”: the battle to overcome vaccine skepticism in the black community
- You can now get personalized updates on the COVID vaccine from Zocdoc
- This is how much Europe pays for each COVID-19 vaccine