Pfizer COVID Vaccine Causing More Allergies Than Expected Says White House's Moncef Slaoui

The Pfizer COVID vaccine has triggered more allergic reactions than would be expected, according to Operation Warp Speed chief scientific adviser Moncef Slaoui.

However, such incident are rare, and experts say the benefits of having the COVID vaccine far outweighs the risks.

On Wednesday, Slaoui said according to CNN: "That frequency [of allergic reactions] as it stood yesterday, is superior to what one would expect with other vaccines."

At that time, he was aware of six cases.

Slaoui said vaccine manufacturers and the National Institutes of Health were considering starting clinical trials on COVID vaccines involving people with serious allergies to try to determine how common such responses are, and their cause. Such trials would include people who need to carry epinephrine pens.

His comments came after the Alabama Department of Public Health said a person had a severe allergic reaction, known as anaphylaxis, several minutes after having the Pfizer COVID vaccine on Tuesday. The person had a history of serious allergic reactions to medicines but chose to receive the vaccine after having a risk assessment.

The individual was treated at Decatur Morgan hospital, where they had also received the shot. On Wednesday, the patient was in a stable condition and recovering. The response was reported to the manufacturer, according to the department.

The incident was the only case of allergic reaction reported in Alabama of the 15,286 COVID vaccine doses given in the state as of Wednesday at 7 a.m. local time.

It came after the New York City health department reported a healthcare worker had a significant allergic reaction after receiving the Pfizer COVID vaccine. Like in Alabama, the case was the first of its kind in over 30,000 vaccinations in the city.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends people are monitored for 15 minutes, or 30 minutes if they have a history of anaphylaxis due to any cause, after having the Pfizer COVID vaccine.

As with all allergic reactions reported after the Pfizer COVID vaccine so far, both individuals fell ill within this time period.

The CDC said on Saturday that as of Friday six cases of anaphylaxis had occurred in the 272,001 people who had the Pfizer vaccine. The incident in Alabama therefore is thought to mark the eighth case.

In a column for The Atlantic on Wednesday, staff writer James Hamblin, who is a medical doctor and lecturer at Yale School of Public Health, said the allergic reactions seen in COVID vaccine recipients are "extremely manageable" in a medical setting.

"While these reports can sound scary—as can broad notes of caution that seem to implicate anyone with serious allergies to anything at all—they're also a sign that the system is working. Around the world, roughly 2 million people have now received some form of the coronavirus vaccine. I'd be most concerned if that happened and we heard radio silence," he wrote.

He said: "The alternative to getting vaccinated isn't 'playing it safe.' The alternative to getting vaccinated is widespread death, endless masking, and distancing, and an indefinite pandemic."

Experts in the U.K. made similar reassurances after two health care workers had allergic reactions to the Pfizer vaccine earlier this month.

Stephen Evans, a professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said in a statement at the time: "For the general population this [the allergic reactions] does not mean that they would need to be anxious about receiving the vaccination. One has to remember that even things like marmite [a food spread] can cause unexpected severe allergic reactions."

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A vial of the Pfizer COVID vaccine at a medical centre in Jerusalem unrelated to the allergic reactions in the U.S., on December 20, 2020. At least six people have had allergic reactions to the vaccine. MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP via Getty Images