WASHINGTON – An Alaska health care worker had a severe allergic reaction after receiving Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine Tuesday and was under observation in the hospital Wednesday morning.
The middle-aged worker had no history of allergy but had an anaphylactic reaction that began 10 minutes after receiving the vaccine at Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau, Alaska, a hospital official said. The reaction included blushing and shortness of breath.
Dr. Lindy Jones, the hospital’s emergency room medical director, said the response waned soon after treating the worker with adrenaline. He said the worker remains excited that she received the vaccine and will be fired later on Wednesday.
“She is healthy and doing well,” said Dr. Jones.
Government officials made an effort to learn more about the case Wednesday, according to three people familiar with their response.
Given that millions of Americans are expected to be vaccinated by the end of the year, the incident is likely to cause federal officials to be even more vigilant for signs of serious side effects. The Alaska woman’s response was believed to be similar to the anaphylactic reactions two health workers in the UK had after receiving the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine last week. Both recovered.
The reaction is expected to kick in on Thursday, when FDA scientists are due to meet with an outside panel of experts to evaluate Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine, which uses the same technology as Pfizer. Although the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines are similar in their ingredients, it is not clear whether an allergic reaction to one would occur with the other. Both are made up of genetic material called mRNA that is enclosed in a bladder made of a mixture of fats. The two companies use different fats.
In Pfizer’s US study of more than 40,000 people, no serious adverse events were identified from the vaccine, although many participants experienced pain, fever, and other side effects. Serious allergic reactions to vaccines are typically associated with the vaccine because of their timing.
A Pfizer spokeswoman, Jerica Pitts, said the company doesn’t have all of the details of the case but is working with local health officials. The vaccine contains information that indicates that medical treatment should be available in the event of a rare anaphylactic event, she said. “We will closely monitor any reports suggestive of serious post-vaccination allergic reactions and update the labeling language as necessary,” said Ms. Pitts.
After workers in the UK got sick, authorities there initially warned against giving the vaccines to anyone with a history of severe allergic reactions. They later clarified their concerns and changed the wording of “severe allergic reactions” to mean that the vaccine should not be given to anyone who has ever had an anaphylactic reaction to a food, medicine, or vaccine. That type of response to a vaccine is “very rare,” they said.
Pfizer officials said the two Britons who had the reaction had severe allergies in the past. A 49-year-old woman has had egg allergies in the past. The other, a 40-year-old woman, had a history of allergies to various drugs. Both wore EpiPen-like devices to inject adrenaline in the event of such a reaction.
Pfizer has said that its vaccine does not contain egg ingredients.
The UK update also said a third patient had a “possible allergic reaction” but did not describe it.
In the United States, federal regulators on Friday gave adults ages 16 and older full approval for the vaccine. Healthcare providers have been warned not to give the vaccine to anyone with a “known history of a severe allergic reaction” to any component of the vaccine. This is a standard warning for vaccines.
Because of the UK cases, FDA officials have announced that they will require Pfizer to step up surveillance for anaphylaxis and provide data on it once the vaccine comes into use. Pfizer also said it is recommended that the vaccine be given in environments that have access to anaphylaxis treatment equipment. Last weekend, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that people with severe allergies can be safely vaccinated, with close monitoring for 30 minutes after receiving the shot.
Anaphylaxis can be life-threatening, with difficulty breathing and drops in blood pressure that usually occur within minutes or even seconds of contact with a food or drug or even a substance such as latex that the person is allergic to.