The Ministry of Health has told Kenyans to report any allergic reaction to a particular ingredient in a Covid-19 vaccine after the first dose.
As per the data on adverse events following immunisation (AEFI) collected by the ministry routinely via the Chanjo system and the Pharmacy and Poisons Board (PPB), none of the jabs being rolled out in the country has resulted in death.
MoH, which recently dealt with a case of fainting, however said that allergic reactions recorded since the vaccination campaign kicked off are very few and have usually required minimal medical intervention with the majority being self-resolving.
“Several things need to be well established before coming to a conclusion.
“First, was the fainting related to the administration of the vaccine or other underlying conditions? It is not unheard of for people to faint at the sight of a needle out of anxiety.
“Secondly, and most importantly, follow-up has been done, however, owing to the professional code of conduct, the information of the individual PPB investigation and follow-up cannot be revealed publicly. Suffice is to say, this was not an alarming outcome of an AEFI,” PPB said.
The Health ministry has asked those prone to allergic reactions to watch out and report.
“Watch out for any signs and symptoms that may present, and report through the Chanjo KE platform or PPB.
A Ministry officer will guide you on the next dose.
“However, the general recommendation is that any person who has a history of severe allergic reaction to any component of the vaccine should not take the vaccine, or any of its type.
Case dealt with
“The affected individual was therefore correctly guided and should wait for consideration of use of the other types of vaccine in the country, the viral vector vaccines (AstraZeneca or Janssen/Johnson and Johnson vaccines),” MoH said.
Experts explain that there are different types of vaccines and that there is a difference between an mRNA vaccine and a viral vector vaccine despite the fact that both mRNA and viral vector vaccines contain instructions that teach our cells how to create “spike proteins”, which is the protein found on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19.
While mRNA is surrounded by tiny lipids (fatty molecules) which help mRNA enter directly into your cells, in viral vector vaccines, spike protein DNA is placed inside a modified version of a different virus that doesn’t cause illness.
This non-harmful virus delivers the DNA instructions to your cells – this virus is called the vector.
Examples of mRNA vaccines include Pfizer and Moderna.
According to the Center for Disease and Control Prevention (CDC), an allergic reaction is considered severe when a person needs to be treated with epinephrine or EpiPen© or if the person must go to the hospital.
Experts refer to severe allergic reactions as anaphylaxis.
“An immediate allergic reaction happens within four hours after getting vaccinated and could include symptoms such as hives, swelling, and wheezing (respiratory distress).
The American regulator recommends that people get vaccinated even if they have a history of severe allergic reactions not related to vaccines or injectable medications — such as food, pet, venom, environmental, or latex allergies while those with a history of allergies to oral medications or a family history of severe allergic reactions may also get vaccinated, “DC says.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) gives direction on handling allergic reactions to Covid-19 jabs on its official website.
“WHO is aware that a small fraction of people – around one person in every one million people vaccinated— may have a severe allergic reaction to the COVID-19 vaccines, known as anaphylaxis.
Just like any other vaccine or drug, some people, especially those with a history of anaphylaxis to one of the vaccine constituents have a higher risk of reaction following COVID-19 vaccination.
Similarly, if the person provides a history of anaphylaxis with a previous dose of the same vaccine he or she advised not to take the vaccine.
To manage such cases, WHO advises that all vaccination sites should have a medical doctor or clinical officer with the necessary kit to address such reactions or any other adverse event following vaccination,” WHO highlights.
A recent peer reviewed study by the JAMA Network on allergic reactions to mRNA vaccines notes that most of the rare, severe allergic reactions to the 2 messenger RNA (mRNA) COVID-19 vaccines have been in people with a history of allergies, many of whom had previous anaphylaxis.
In mast cell disorders, abnormal or overly active mast cells, a type of white blood cell, can cause life-threatening reactions that look like anaphylaxis.
As Kenya’s health ministry maintains that it has not adopted a mixing regime strategy for Covid-19 vaccines, one wonders whether the government should consider this for those prone to allergic reactions.