This article is part of Harvard Medical School’s continuing coverage of medicine, biomedical research, medical education, and policy related to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and the disease COVID-19.
A new review from a team led by Harvard Medical School allergists based at Massachusetts General Hospital offers reassurance that the two currently approved COVID-19 vaccines can be administered safely even to people with food or medication allergies.
The findings are published online in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice.
Reports of possible allergic reactions to the two COVID-19 vaccines approved for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, produced by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, have raised public concern.
To provide insights from the perspective of allergists, Aleena Banerji, HMS associate professor of medicine at Mass General, and her colleagues summarized the current knowledge of allergic reactions to vaccines like those developed to protect against COVID-19.
“As allergists, we want to encourage vaccination by reassuring the public that both FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines are safe,” said Banerji, who is the clinical director of the Allergy and Clinical Immunology Unit at Mass General. “Our guidelines are built upon the recommendations of U.S. regulatory agencies and provide clear steps to the medical community on how to safely administer both doses of the vaccine in individuals with allergic histories.”
The team noted that allergic reactions to vaccines are rare, with a rate of about 1.3 per one million people. Allergic reactions to the two COVID-19 vaccines will have a similarly low rate of occurrence, according to Banerji and colleagues.
Importantly, patients with severe allergies to foods, oral drugs, latex, or venom can safely receive the COVID-19 vaccines, the researchers stressed.
However, they recommend that individuals with a history of anaphylaxis to an injectable drug or vaccine containing polyethylene glycol or polysorbate speak with an allergist first before being vaccinated.
Banerji and colleagues also stressed that vaccine clinics will be monitoring all patients for 15 to 30 minutes and can manage any allergic reactions that occur.
The review was initiated in response to accounts of potential allergic reactions in some people following COVID-19 vaccination in the United Kingdom, which led that country’s medical regulatory agency to advise that individuals with a history of anaphylaxis to a medicine or food should avoid COVID-19 vaccination.
After closer review of the data related to allergic reactions, however, the FDA recommended that the vaccines be withheld only from individuals with a history of severe allergic reactions to any component of the COVID-19 vaccine, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised that all patients be observed for 15 minutes post-vaccination by staff who can identify and manage such reactions.
The U.S. agencies do not recommend that people with food or medication allergies avoid vaccination.
Adapted from a Mass General news release.