Some of my friends have been asking me if they can have the Covid vaccination if they have allergies like hayfever. The answer is, yes, they can, despite concerns being raised when two healthcare workers had reactions to the jab in December.
However, both had a history of severe allergies and even carried EpiPens for emergencies.
At the end of December, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency issued a statement after reviewing more than a million doses here and in North America.
It said there was no evidence of an increased risk of an allergic reaction to the Pfizer vaccine, the only preclusion being people who are allergic to vaccines themselves.
I cannot stress strongly enough that allergy doesn’t prohibit vaccination unless that allergy is to a vaccine or to its ingredients.
As Rebecca E Glover and colleagues from London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, UCLH London and Harvard Medical School, US, say in the BMJ, the reporting of any allergy as a reason to not vaccinate would be concerning because 20-40% of the population in the UK and US has at least one form of allergy. That includes hayfever, conjunctivitis, allergic asthma, eczema and contact dermatitis, food allergy, and urticaria caused by food.
Another concern is that the public’s acceptance of a Covid-19 vaccine seems to be waning. Initially acceptance ranged up 90% but it had dipped to 64% by July 2020.
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Most worrying of all, vaccine hesitancy seems to be highest in ethnic minority communities, the most vulnerable to Covid. It seems to me we have to be transparent with everyone about the science behind allergies and vaccination because, in general, it’s reassuring.
The important message is having a severe allergy doesn’t preclude vaccination unless that allergy is to the vaccine itself or its components.
It’s crucial this message gets out clearly and openly as a first step in approaching vaccine hesitancy. The public could gain confidence if vaccinators were prepared to be open, explain the difference between severe, moderate and mild allergies, and clarify MHRA’s decision-making.
A worry is that people’s views about Covid vaccines may transfer to other vaccines like childhood immunisation, so it’s essential to keep the lines of communication open, and if vaccination is declined, there’s no place for coercion. People should be reassured they can return.
The good news is it may be possible to vaccinate people with allergies to vaccine components. Allergists can assess patients with an allergy to a vaccine and judge if they can be vaccinated with a routine 15 or 30 minutes of observation or they can have a skin test before vaccination.
By Dr Mirriam Stoppard