Allergic reaction or your body’s natural defense? Explaining possible side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine

West Virginia

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (WDVM) — As COVID vaccines become more available to the general public, health officials in Berkeley and Morgan Counties want to address concerns that some may have about side effects or negative reactions to the vaccine.

Angela Gray has almost 30 years of nursing experience, and as the nurse director of Berkeley-Morgan Health Department, she doesn’t want people to avoid the vaccine because of potential side effects. She believes people are confusing reactions or common vaccine side effects with the immune system’s response to the mRNA (genetic material used to help the body develop antibodies) within the vaccine.

“People are talking about ‘Oh my arm is sore, I got a rash on my arm, or the next day, I got a headache, or I had a slight fever or I had body aches or chills,'” Gray explained. “That is not really an allergic reaction. That is your immune system responding, taking the vaccine up. Most of us won’t encounter that.”

Both Gray and Misty Weisenburg, who has been leading the Vaccine Administration Management System for the health department, have received their two doses earlier this year. Before receiving her vaccine, Weisenburg was actually preparing for the side effects that Gray described.

“I got my Pfizer vaccine in early January. Nothing that happened to me was anything that was worrisome,” Weisenburg explained. “The worst that I had with either shot was a sore arm. I had no problems medically at all and it actually went really smooth and I was surprised that my arm wasn’t sorer than it was.”

A week-long study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control in December of 2020 shows that only 0.2% of patients, or 2 out of 1,000 people, who received the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine experienced adverse reactions to the shot.

During the study, 1,893,360 first doses were administered with 4,393 reports of adverse events following the injection. Of the 4,393 adverse effect reports, only 175 cases were identified for further review as possible cases of a severe allergic reaction, including anaphylaxis, based on the descriptions of signs and symptoms. Only 21 of the 175 reports met the Brighton Collaboration case definition criteria for anaphylaxis which is a classification system for the severity of an allergic reaction.

Gray explained that while an allergic reaction to the COVID vaccine is rare, all of the vaccine locations across the county are equipped with resources such as epinephrine or EpiPens for emergency use. She also stated that this is a common and mandatory practice at all locations that administer any kind of vaccine, including the flu vaccine.

Gray also stressed that the positivity rates in the county show that more people need to get their vaccine in order to return to some sort of normalcy.

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