National study investigates severe allergies and reaction to COVID vaccine


LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – With the COVID-19 vaccine now available to all Arkansans 16 and up, an increasing number of people are lining up to get the shot.

But the most common factor holding some back is the fear of a bad reaction, very few of which have been recorded in the U.S. since vaccines became widely available.

Although serious reactions are rare (according to the CDC, around 2 to 5 cases per million doses administered), scientists and doctors are still learning all they can about the vaccine with the rollout kicking off only about four months ago.

Now, researchers at UAMS and Arkansas Children’s Hospital hope to discover the actual rate of serious allergic reactions post-vaccine, and who is most at risk for complications. 

Arkansas doctors at the two hospitals are taking part in a national study forwarded by the National Institute of Health that seeks to learn more about what leads to bad reactions.

Dr. Akilah Jefferson, an associate professor of pediatrics – allergy and immunology at UAMS and Arkansas Children’s is helping to organize the effort and pinpoint the risk factors for certain groups of people. 

“The risk is quite low that you’ll have an issue with these vaccines,” Dr. Jefferson reminds folks. “But the risk of getting COVID and getting sick is much higher.”

She says the study focuses on those who already have severe allergies – people who could be prone to serious reactions from the vaccine such as anaphylaxis.

These include those allergic to things like peanuts, bee stings, or other drugs and vaccines. “We want to access the true rate of allergic reactions to people who receive those vaccines,” Jefferson said. 

Although the vaccine has been rolling out the public for some time, better pinpointing what causes severe allergic reactions in a microscopic portion of the population will help with vaccines down the road, especially if seasonal boosters are in our future. 

“We might need to get these same vaccines in a year or six months,” said Dr. Jefferson, “so we need to know this answer.”

But studying these risk factors and focusing on the severe allergic reaction of a few does not make this a dangerous vaccine. For most of the population, having more than a fever or chills post-shot is rare. 

“For the Pfizer vaccine, it’s about 5 cases per 1 million shots,” said Jefferson.

For Moderna, the rate is about 2 cases. In comparison, the CDC says a bad reaction to the flu vaccine is about 1 in a million. 

So, what should those with allergies do? According to Jefferson, even with that slight risk factor it’s better to get the shot. 

“Those people we still encourage to get the vaccine,” she said.

Those with food and insect allergies should consult with their doctor first, and people allergic to ingredients in the specific COVID vaccine can chat with an allergist as to the best course of action.

Jefferson also reminds people to wait around for at least 15 minutes post-vaccine to watch for any serious side effects, as most occur within that timeframe.

For those with severe allergic reactions, it’s best to wait around 30 minutes. 

Those interested in the study can learn more HERE.

Arkansas Children’s and UAMS are looking for applicants 18 to 69 years old who have not received the vaccine yet, and either have a history of severe allergic reactions, mast cell disorders, or those who do not have any allergies at all.

Participants will end the study with both doses of either Pfizer or Moderna and will be compensated for each visit. To register or lean more, call (501)-364-3031. 

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