COVID-19 vaccine: 2 Alaska health workers have severe reactions

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The two workers showed adverse reactions about 10 minutes after receiving the vaccine and were treated.

WASHINGTON — Health officials in Alaska have reported that a second health care worker had an adverse reaction to a COVID-19 vaccine.

Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau says the two workers showed adverse reactions about 10 minutes after receiving the vaccine and were treated. One received the vaccine Tuesday and will remain in the hospital another night under observation while the other, vaccinated Wednesday, has fully recovered.

U.S. health authorities warned doctors to watch for rare allergic reactions when they rolled out the first vaccine, made by Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech. Britain reported a few similar cases a week earlier. That’s why vaccine recipients are supposed to be observed after getting the shot, in case they need immediate treatment.

The first of the two Alaska health workers was feeling flushed and short of breath, said Dr. Lindy Jones, emergency room medical director at Bartlett Regional Hospital.

She was treated with epinephrine and other medicines for what officials ultimately determined was anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction. She was kept overnight but has recovered, Jones said.

Unlike the British cases, the first Alaska worker had no history of allergic reactions. Jones said she remained “enthusiastic” about having taken the first dose of the vaccine. She is not expected to receive a second dose.

The state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, said Alaska doesn’t plan to change its vaccine rollout.

“This is all kind of part of what we’ve been looking for and expecting,” she said.

“We expected that a side effect like this could occur after reports of anaphylaxis were made in England after people there received the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine,” said Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink. “All sites that are approved to provide vaccinations in Alaska must have medications on hand to deal with an allergic reaction and that was the case in Juneau.” 

A Pfizer spokeswoman told the New York Times the company does not yet have all of the details of the case but is working with local health authorities.

The two adverse reactions in Alaska were believed to be the first such instances in the United States.

The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus topped 300,000 Monday just as the country began dispensing COVID-19 shots to healthcare workers in a monumental campaign to conquer the outbreak.

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