Prisma Health doctor: ‘The benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks’

Published: Dec. 10, 2020 at 10:54 AM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Concerns about the safety of a COVID-19 vaccine are top of mind for many people as the United Kingdom begins vaccinations and the U.S. is poised to clear Pfizer’s vaccine for emergency use.

A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory panel is set to meet at 9 a.m. Thursday to begin reviewing Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

The independent panel will review trial data and determine whether the shot is safe and effective enough to be cleared for emergency use.

This, after that same vaccine made its world debut Tuesday in the UK, where some of the first people received Pfizer’s vaccine.

One day later, though, reports that two people had severe allergic reactions after being vaccinated are now causing some concern.

The first batch of vaccines to the UK included around 800,000 doses and that’s enough to vaccinate about 400,000 people since two doses are required three weeks apart.

Thousands have been vaccinated already, but UK health officials now say two of those people – health care workers – developed severe allergic reactions after being vaccinated.

Now, a health care regulatory agency for the UK is advising people with severe allergies not to get the Pfizer vaccine, also suggesting that the vaccine only be carried out in facilities where resuscitation measures are available.

Still, an infectious disease physician with Prisma Health, Dr. Edwin Hayes, said allergic reactions are not uncommon with vaccines.

The doctor, who was the principal investigator for some Prima Remdesivir studies and is currently helping to investigate different COVID-19 treatments, says patients often have mild reactions to vaccines, like site irritation or redness, also feeling unwell or fatigued for a day or two after being vaccinated.

Dr. Hayes is also an assistant clinical professor of clinical studies with the University of South Carolina School of Medicine.

He says people with everyday allergies should not be concerned.

“We’re talking about people who walk around with epinephrine pens on them at all times because they may have a significant reaction,” Hayes explained. “More mild allergies are generally not a contraindication to most vaccines, but right now we don’t have any specific exclusions based on someone just having a general allergy.”

It’s important to note that this severe allergy warning is coming from UK health officials, as U.S. officials have not yet completed their review of the Pfizer vaccine.

“I think it’ll be important to see the formal guidance that the FDA puts out,” Hayes said. “Individuals (should) talk to their own doctor about whether or not it’s reasonable, but I wouldn’t hesitate about moving forward to try and obtain the vaccine at this time.”

The two health care workers who had severe allergic reactions in the UK are said to have a history of severe allergies and carried EpiPens, but are now recovering well.

Also, Pfizer’s trial protocol did not allow for people with severe allergies to take part in the clinical studies.

Still, even for those at risk of severe allergic reaction, Hayes says the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks.

“You look at the treatments that are available for COVID-19, which have had a lot of questionable data – there hasn’t been a lot of compelling, reassuring data that we have a great cure at this point – versus the kind of treatments that we have available for some of these reactions that you can see to the vaccine,” Hayes said, “It does seem much more favorable, still, at this point, to get the vaccine than to risk this ongoing pandemic coming to your doorstep.”

Hayes said smallpox was eradicated around the world with a similar approach: targeted vaccination, social distancing and basic hygiene.

He says it’s important that as many people are vaccinated as soon as possible, and that being vaccinated could “potentially save your neighbor’s life.”

The FDA could approve Pfizer’s vaccine in the United States on Thursday. The U.S. Health Secretary has said officials are hoping to have 20 million people vaccinated in the next several weeks, with the initial focus on health care workers and nursing home residents.

Earlier this week, the FDA released a briefing document listing the safety profile of the vaccine as “favorable.” That document also confirms that the vaccine is 95% effective against the coronavirus.

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