UK investigates possible allergic reactions to COVID-19 vaccine

News of case reports come day after UK became first Western country to roll out vaccine for widespread use.

A pharmacy technician from Croydon Health Services prepares a delivery of the first batch of COVID-19 vaccinations at Croydon University Hospital [Gareth Fuller/Pool via Reuters]

United Kingdom regulators have had two reports of possible allergic reactions from people who took part in the first day of Britain’s mass vaccination programme against COVID-19.

Dr June Raine, head of the UK’s medical regulatory agency, MHRA, reported those reactions as she testified Wednesday to a parliamentary committee.

The UK began vaccinating elderly people and medical workers with a vaccine developed by American drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech on Tuesday, the world’s first roll-out of the vaccine.

“We’re looking at two case reports of allergic reactions,’’ she said. “We know from the very extensive clinical trials that this wasn’t a feature.

“But If we need to strengthen our advice, now that we have had this experience with the vulnerable populations, the groups who have been selected as a priority, we get that advice to the field immediately,” she said.

Raine’s comments came as part of a general discussion of how her agency will continue to monitor people who receive the Pfizer vaccine, which was authorised for emergency use last week.

Health officials said people who have a “significant history’’ of allergic reactions should not receive the new vaccine while experts investigate the reactions.

Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director for the National Health Service in England, said health authorities were acting on a recommendation from the MHRA.

“As is common with new vaccines, the MHRA has advised, on a precautionary basis, that people with a significant history of allergic reactions do not receive this vaccination after two people with a history of significant allergic reactions responded adversely yesterday,’’ Powis said in a statement. “Both are recovering well.”

Europe’s worst outbreak

Seventy UK hospitals started the vaccine programme on Tuesday.

The UK has recorded 62,000 COVID-19 related deaths – more than any other country has reported in Europe, and at least 1.7 million cases.

The first 800,000 doses are going to people over 80 who are either hospitalised or already have outpatient appointments scheduled, along with nursing home workers. Others will have to wait their turn.

The UK, home to about 67 million people, has ordered 40 million doses of the vaccine – enough to inoculate 20 million people, as it is given in two injections, 21 days apart.

There are three routes for transporting the vaccine into the country, which officials have warned will be challenging because it needs to be shipped and stored at -70 degrees Celsius (-94F), or below.

Because the vaccine needs to be stored at this level, to begin with, people will only be inoculated at hospitals, rather than in nursing homes.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies