You perhaps have grappled with the question, ”is the covid 19 vaccine safe?” Not to worry. You join millions of people asking the same question amid the continued global roll-out of immunization designed to protect people from severe disease.
Let’s begin by tackling the issue of an allergic reaction.
According to the lobby group Children’s Health Defence, the use of polysorbate 80 as a vaccine ingredient or excipient, leaves the door open for a number of allergic reactions including anaphylaxis, which can kill the recipient if not addressed by medics immediately.
An excipient is a compound used to help with water solubility and is one of the vaccine ingredients. Excipients, such as polyethylene glycol (PEG) and polysorbate, are used to improve water solubility in drugs and vaccines
“Excipients are added to a vaccine for specific purposes such as stimulating a stronger immune response, preventing contamination by bacteria, or stabilizing the potency of the vaccine during transportation and storage. They represent the major contributor to specific and immediate reactions associated with vaccines,” a report on vaccine safety written by Drs Aleena Bannerji, Paige Wickner, Rebecca Staff and others reads.
The report entitled mRNA Vaccines to Prevent COVID-19 Disease and Reported Allergic Reactions: Current Evidence and Suggested Approach (insert link) acknowledges that drug companies have tried to reduce the risk of allergies by reducing the compounds in vaccines.
“Efforts to specifically decrease well-known excipients such as egg and gelatin in vaccines have been highly successful in reducing subsequent allergic reactions.
Covid 19 Vaccine Safety
The report notes that “PEG (which is used in the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines) has not previously been used in a vaccine, but polysorbate has been identified as a rare cause of allergic reactions to vaccines”.
According to the report, polysorbate 80 has been used widely in multiple categories of medical products.
“Polysorbate resembles another Polysorbate is an excipient in many medical preparations including vitamin oils, vaccines, and anticancer agents, creams, ointments, lotions, and medication tablets,” says the report.
“For example, at least 70 per cent of injectable biological agents and mAb treatments contain a polysorbate, most typically polysorbate 80,” it goes on.
The report authors however admitted the compound which is used in the Astra Zeneca and Johnson and Johnson vaccines is, “a likely cause of allergic reactions” for a small number of people.
“Unfortunately, polysorbate and its degradation products are known to be intrinsically anaphylactogenic, leading to a plausible explanation for multiple reports of anaphylaxis in patients receiving polysorbate-containing biologics, vaccines, steroids, and chemotherapeutics. However, there is limited in vivo and in vitro evidence to support this, and isolated sensitization through polysorbates appears rare and less common than through higher molecular weight PEG,” the report says.
Dr Bannerji’s team writes that“attempts have been made to address these issues by using safer alternatives to polysorbate, but the negative allergic outcomes are often outweighed by the clinical benefit of improved drug performance”.
The report also indicates that not all cases of adverse immune system response will count as allergic reactions since other reactions outside this loop can also occur.
“Panic or anxiety reactions can also present with symptoms masquerading as allergic reactions such as flushing, shortness of breath, tachycardia, and lightheadedness. Vocal cord dysfunction or inducible laryngeal obstruction, may also masquerade as anaphylaxis, with prominent symptoms of shortness of breath and throat tightness but may also include flushing,” Dr Bannerji adds.
She makes note of the most recent CDC report which showed that 61 or 35 per cent of 175 severe allergic reactions, were discovered to be nonallergic after case review.
”There is No Cause for Alarm”, Dr Willis Akhwale
Among Kenyans, the rising worry about the Astra Zeneca vaccine’s safety is attributed to the decision by at least 20 countries to suspend its use.
So far, a total of 37 cases of blood clots have been reported in Europe out of a total of more than 17m doses of the vaccine administered across Europe.
Astra Zeneca and the WHO insists that there is no evidence of increased risk of blood clots in any age group or gender in any country.
The WHO has discounted links between the vaccine and the blood clotting cases, insisting it is still safe for use.
Chiming in with Astra Zeneca’s statement, the WHO has also discounted possible links between the vaccine and the clotting incidents. WHO has been spearheading a campaign under the COVAX umbrella to ensure as many countries as possible get access to the Covid- 19 vaccines.
“As of today, there is no evidence that the incidents are caused by the vaccine. It is important that vaccination campaigns continue so that we can save lives and prevent severe disease due to infection with the virus,” WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier said.
According to a report by Dr Bannerji, allergic reactions to vaccines are generally described as occurring at a rate of one case per million doses or 1.31 per cent per million doses from a large population-based study, with no deaths reported.
Dr Willis Akhwale who chairs the Covid-19 Vaccine Advisory Board has also encouraged Kenyans to line up for the jab, saying “there is no cause for alarm”.
His remarks come in the wake of the ministry of health vaccination team reporting at least 43 cases of adverse reactions.
“We have received reports of about 43 cases of adverse reactions mostly consisting of headache, slight fever and body aches. However, none of them is serious enough to warrant investigation,” Dr Akhwale said in Nairobi on March 17, 2021.
The covid 19 vaccine is voluntary, with health experts advising people to take it as the sure way of attaining
Astra Zeneca has so far distributed 17m doses of the vaccine in Europe, with 37 cases of blood clots reported amongst recipients.
In Kenya, at least 28,255 people have so far been vaccinated, with zero deaths or blood clotting cases reported.
Meanwhile, Kenya has launched the second version of a pharmacovigilance electronic reporting system.
The system consists of a software program that collects and processes reports on adverse events after immunization, incidents following the use of a medical device, suspected poor-quality medicines, suspected adverse drug reactions, medication errors as well as suspected blood and blood product reactions.
PPB chief executive Dr Fred Siyoi says the system has been tweaked to allow consumers to directly alert the watchdog body in case something goes amiss with the drugs, vaccines or other products they use.
“Among the upgrades in the system is the consumer or patient reporting feature that allows product users to alert the PPB on suspected adverse drug or product reactions,” says Dr Siyoi.
A list of excipients in vaccines is provided here
Remember, wearing a mask while in public places is one sure way of preventing the spread of the virus. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water. If you do not need to be up and about, then stay home.