Those who had an allergic reaction to their first shot of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine can safely receive future doses of the same product or a different mRNA vaccine, says Canada’s vaccine advisory committee.
While rare, there have been reported cases of individuals experiencing severe and immediate allergic reactions to a first dose, said the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI).
After reviewing evidence from recent studies, NACI said it found that most people who experienced an immediate allergic reaction did not have a similar reaction when receiving a second dose.
Previously, NACI had been recommending against “routinely” offering second doses to those who had severe allergic reactions after their first shot, saying that second shots should be offered in such cases only when a risk assessment concludes that the benefit of vaccination outweighs the allergy risk.
“That’s good news in so many ways,” Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said of NACI’s new advice today.
“Now there’s an opportunity for some of these individuals to get their full protection.”
The Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology says allergic reactions to vaccination, including severe ones, are extremely rare. Studies suggest the estimated annual rate of such severe reactions in Canada is about 0.4 to 1.8 cases per one million doses of vaccine administered.
According to Health Canada’s review of adverse vaccine reactions, 307 cases of anaphylaxis have been reported in the country — out of more than 56 million COVID-19 doses administered.
Precautions still needed
But Friday’s updated guidance comes with some recommended precautions.
The advisory committee says those who have had an allergic reaction after their first dose should consult an allergist or doctor before going to get their second shot. The committee says they should also be observed for a half-hour after getting the second dose, rather than the routine 15 minutes.
Tam said the shot should also be administered under “careful watch” by a doctor.
“Just by taking a bit more care, this population can be safely vaccinated,” Tam said.
Some doctors and allergists have noted an uptick in Canadians seeking medical exemptions to vaccination requirements due to allergy fears.
Tam said such an exemption could be granted but would depend on an individual assessment by a doctor or allergist.
Travel advisory lifted
Despite a change in the government’s travel advisory, public health officials are still cautioning against travelling outside of Canada.
On Thursday, the government quietly lifted a blanket advisory against all non-essential travel outside the country which had been in place since the pandemic was declared in March 2020.
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But Tam said she would still advise against non-essential travel and added that the blanket advisory was lifted in order to allow officials to examine situations on a country-by-country basis.
“The pandemic is very much alive. There are definitely still risks involved in travel,” she said. “Now is not the time to just freely go wherever.”
Tam said Canadians who do choose to travel should be fully vaccinated at least 14 days beforehand and take a close look at the COVID-19 situation in their chosen destination.