Misinformation, fear, and generic feelings of doubt crowd the internet when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, and specifically the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine as it becomes available to the general public.
That isn’t to say specific populations aren’t justified in their hesitance to get the vaccine. However, those are few and far in between. Ultimately, the best vaccine advice you can get is to listen to your medical professionals, not your half-uncle Steve on Facebook.
With all this said, there are some reasons for individuals to do some research and inquire with medical providers to determine if the COVID-19 vaccine is safe for them.
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends asking your doctor if you should obtain the COVID-19 vaccine if you have had a reaction to a vaccine before,” said Dr. Roshini Mullakary, an allergy and immunology specialist with Northwell Health Physician Partners/Westchester Health. “If your doctor is not sure, an allergist would be helpful to further evaluate your history of reactions and your risk level in proceeding with the COVID vaccine.”
Generally, allergic reactions to vaccines are not common. However, they do happen occasionally. One subset of people who may not need to be specifically concerned is those with food allergies. The CDC has not yet identified any food allergies that make one susceptible to allergic reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine.
In reality, a reason for concern for an allergic reaction from the COVID-19 vaccine is if you are allergic to one of the active ingredients that make up the vaccine itself.
“Those who have had allergic reactions to any of the ingredients in the COVID-19 vaccine should not get the vaccine,” Dr. Mullakary said. “Importantly, according to the CDC anyone with a history of allergic reactions to polyethylene glycol should not obtain the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine at this current time.”
Polyethylene glycol, or PEG, is a key component in each of the currently available COVID-19 vaccines. Additionally, anyone with an allergy to polysorbate, a compound structurally similar to PEG, should not get the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. However, it should be noted that having a reaction to these substances is rare. Additionally it is not apparent whether the reported allergic reactions are due to PEG. If you are worried that you may be allergic to PEG or polysorbate, please see an allergist before getting the vaccine.
At this time, it is not clear if the reported reactions are allergic in nature and with time, we will likely obtain more information regarding adverse reactions. Regardless of allergy concerns, it is possible to feel some non-allergy-related responses upon receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Reactions such as arm pain may be expected following vaccine administration, and some patients may also experience fatigue, fever or chills.
These can be standard symptoms and should not cause concern. However if you feel as if you may be having a more severe reaction, seek medical attention.
“Most reactions are happening as your immune system is getting stimulated and learning how to fight the coronavirus in the future,” Dr. Mullakary said. “However, if you feel like you may be having a severe reaction, you should immediately seek medical care.”
Ultimately, the only way to return to a normal New York and a normal world is for the broader population to be vaccinated for COVID-19. While some allergy-related concerns make vaccinating certain populations a complex issue, the vast majority of individuals will be considerably safer with the vaccine than without.
It is important to remember that knowledge and recommendations regarding COVID and its vaccine are constantly evolving, and the best source of up-to-date information would be speaking to your health care professional. If you or a loved one have any issues or specific questions regarding the COVID-19 vaccine and your particular allergies, you can reach Dr. Roshini Mullakary and the Allergy and Immunology Clinic at (914) 777-1179.
By Roshini Mary Mullakary, MD, an Allergist & Immunologist with Westchester Health, member of Northwell Health Physician Partners.