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VERIFY: Allergic reactions from COVID-19 vaccines in the UK, and what that means for the US

After two healthcare workers experienced allergic reactions to COVID-19 vaccines administered in the United Kingdom, many Americans asked what this means for them.

News that two healthcare workers in the United Kingdom had allergic reactions to the COVID vaccine surfaced, which turned into hundreds of headlines and social media posts about what it could mean for others.

The VERIFY team breaks down the known facts about the situation and what they mean for you.

THE QUESTION:


Did two healthcare workers in the UK have allergic reactions to the coronavirus vaccine? What happened? And what does that mean for others in the UK and internationally?

THE ANSWER:


Yes, two healthcare workers in the UK had allergic reactions to a COVID vaccine. Both have recovered, but the National Health Service is now advising people with a history of severe allergic reactions to avoid the vaccine. 

According to Dr. Shmuel Shoham, an Associate Professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, it’s normal to see a small number of allergic reactions to new vaccines.

WHAT WE FOUND:



Professor Stephen Powis, the National Medical Director for the NHS in the UK, put out the following statement on Wednesday, December 9:

“As is common with new vaccines, the MHRA have 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. Both are recovering well.”

The key points are that two healthcare workers did have allergic responses, but both had a history of allergic reactions and both are recovering. 

The NHS is advising that “You should not have the vaccine if you've ever had a serious allergic reaction to medicines, vaccines or food.”

“There can be allergic reactions to any biological products,” Dr. Shoham told VERIFY.

Shoham said that it’s not unusual for any vaccine to result in a small number of allergic reactions. And said people should make an individual decision based on their own health.

“I think that you have to balance the risk,” he said. “I look at myself. I’m a few pounds overweight. I have to work, so I'm not hunkering down in my home. If I get Coronavirus, bad things can happen. So I'd love a vaccine, and I'm willing to take the risk of an allergic reaction to it. On the other hand, you might have somebody who might make a different calculation for their body. And everything that you put in your body is a choice. In my mind, it's both a good thing to protect yourself and a good thing to protect your community.”

The UK has administered thousands of COVID vaccines this week. At this point, there are only a few reported cases of allergic reactions.