Health officials track safety as COVID-19 vaccines roll out

Full Screen
1 / 2

Copyright 2020 Associated Press

A droplet falls from a syringe after a health care worker was injected with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Women & Infants Hospital in Providence, R.I., Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

As COVID-19 vaccinations roll out to more and more people, health authorities are keeping close watch for any unexpected side effects.

On Tuesday, a health worker in Alaska suffered a severe allergic reaction after receiving the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. She is in the hospital for another night under observation while another worker, vaccinated Wednesday, has recovered. Doctors already knew to be on the lookout after Britain reported two similar cases last week.

In the U.S., vaccine recipients are supposed to hang around after the injection in case signs of an allergy appear and they need immediate treatment — exactly what happened when the health worker in Juneau became flushed and short of breath 10 minutes after the shot. The second worker experienced eye puffiness, light headedness and scratchy throat.

Allergies are always a question with a new medical product, but monitoring COVID-19 vaccines for any other, unexpected side effects is a bigger challenge than usual. It's not just because so many people need to be vaccinated over the next year. Never before have so many vaccines made in different ways converged at the same time — and it’s possible that one shot option will come with different side effects than another.

The first vaccine beginning widespread use in the U.S. and many Western countries, made by Pfizer Inc. and Germany’s BioNTech, and a second option expected soon from competitor Moderna Inc. both are made the same way. The Food and Drug Administration says huge studies of each have uncovered no major safety risks.

But the allergy concern “points out again the importance of real-time safety monitoring,” said Dr. Jesse Goodman of Georgetown University, a former FDA vaccine chief.

And authorities have multiple ways of tracking how people fare as these COVID-19 vaccines, and hopefully additional ones in coming months, get into more arms.