Health care worker in Alaska has severe allergic reaction to coronavirus vaccine

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A health care worker in Alaska had a serious allergic reaction and is hospitalized after getting the new coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, according to two people familiar with the situation.

“We have heard there was an allergic reaction and the patient is stable,” said Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer for the Association of State and Territorial Health officers. “The patient is doing well.”

Authorities in Alaska and with Pfizer have not released further details about the incident, the first such case reported in the United States as the new vaccine begins to be distributed in what officials hope will be the start of the end of the pandemic.

The Alaska case echoes similar situations in the United Kingdom last week involving serious but non-fatal allergic reactions to the vaccine among two health care workers. British authorities have advised people with a history of anaphylaxis — a serious and potentially fatal allergic reaction that can happen quickly but also be rapidly reversed through medication — to consult with a doctor before receiving the vaccine.

A spokesman for Pfizer said the company doesn’t yet have all the details of the report from Alaska but is “actively working with local health authorities to assess.”

“We will closely monitor all reports suggestive of serious allergic reactions following vaccination and update labeling language if needed,” said the spokeswoman Jerica Pitts. “The prescribing information has a clear warning/precaution that appropriate medical treatment and supervision should always be readily available in case of a rare anaphylactic event following the administration of the vaccine.”

She said that prospective participants in the late-stage clinical trial were excluded if they had a history of severe allergic reactions associated with a vaccine or to any component of this vaccine.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that people with a history of such severe reactions “may still receive vaccination, but they should be counseled about the unknown risks of developing a severe allergic reaction and balance these risks against the benefits of vaccination.”

People who have mild allergies to food, pets, environment or latex can still get the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Some mild side effects to the vaccine — such as fever, fatigue, headache or pain at the injection site — are common and go away in a day or two, health officials say. Experts say the new coronavirus vaccine has similar side effects to the widely distributed shingles vaccine.

Scientists do not know precisely what component of the new vaccine is implicated in the allergic response.

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