Have allergies? Worried about COVID-19 vaccine? Don’t be.

The CDC recommends that patients who are concerned about a reaction wait 30 minutes before leaving the clinic or hospital.

Even people who have experienced severe allergic reactions to food, latex, pets, pollen, or bee stings should get the coronavirus vaccine, UW Medicine allergy and infectious disease experts say.

After the first COVID-19 vaccines were administered, a few incidents of allergic reactions were reported in the United States and abroad. These naturally spurred questions about the vaccines' safety for people who have a history of allergic reactions. 

In response, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines, which generally support vaccine administration to this population. However, it said that people who have experienced allergic reactions to injectable medications – more specifically polyethylene glycol, which is used to coat mRNA as part of the existing vaccines' delivery – should not receive the vaccine.  

For the general population, though, the vaccine is safe and epidemiological numbers are on your side, said Dr. Doug Paauw, a UW Medicine internist who is chair of Patient Centered Clinical Education at the University of Washington School of Medicine.  

Paauw (pronounced “pow”) suspects that, eventually, the allergic reaction rate to the COVID-19 vaccines will be one per 1 million people. Other medications, including penicillin, have higher rates of causing severe allergic reactions.

“The chance of dying if you take penicillin is much higher, and few worry about getting an antibiotic in this country,” he said.

On Jan. 6, the CDC released a report showing that, of the 1.89 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine distributed in the United States through Dec. 23, only 21 recipients reported having an anaphylactic reaction. All but one has completely recovered, according to the report.

For people who have allergies and who are concerned that they might have a reaction, the CDC recommends that they wait 30 minutes after getting vaccinated before leaving the clinic or hospital, added Dr. David Coleman, an allergy expert at Harborview Medical Center.

“There’s so few reactions that have occurred that are severe allergic reactions to this vaccine out of the millions who have received the vaccine so far,” concurred Dr. Shireesha Dhanireddy, medical director for the infectious disease clinic at Harborview. “So the vast majority of people should not be concerned even if they have a history of allergies to oral medications or food. We still strongly encouraging those individuals to get vaccines.”

Dhanireddy addressed other aspects of vaccine delivery and possible reactions here.

According to the CDC, if someone has a severe allergic reaction after getting vaccinated, their vaccination provider will send a report to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, the national repository for reports from healthcare professionals, vaccine manufacturers, and the public about adverse events that happen after vaccination. 

– Barbara Clements, bac60@uw.edu, 253.740.5043

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