Over 2,000 people in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Second doses of the vaccine began last week. So far no one in the region has developed anaphylaxis, but short-term side effects are common.
“We have been very lucky to not have any of those serious allergic reactions in our region,” Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation Chief of Staff Dr. Ellen Hodges said during a virtual town hall on Jan. 8.
Such allergic reactions are rare and often easily treatable. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone who receives the vaccine be monitored for 15 minutes in case an anaphylactic reaction occurs. The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation is observing everyone a little longer, for 20 minutes.
“Most cases, about 99% of cases of anaphylaxis is going to occur in the first 20 minutes, which is why we chose that as the cut-off,” Hodges said.
People with a history of serious allergies are monitored longer, for 30 minutes, as an extra precaution. Hodges said that everyone delivering the vaccines has been trained to respond to allergic reactions, and that the treatment they have is effective.
Though allergic reactions are rare, and none have occurred in the region, some side effects to the vaccine are common. Hodges experienced them herself.
“I know after my second dose I needed some ibuprofin for a couple days,” she said.
The most common side effects include pain, redness, and swelling at the site of the injection, as well as body aches, fatigue, joint pain, swollen lymph nodes, and a rash in a place separate from the injection site. Less common side effects include vomiting and diarrhea. Hodges said that most side effects clear up on their own.
“Most of them are mild and relieved with either Tylenol or ibuprofin, and usually only last between one to three days,” Hodges said.
The effects of COVID-19, on the other hand, can linger for months. In severe cases, COVID-19 can result in hospitalization or death. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are 95% effective at preventing recipients from developing COVID-19. YKHC President and CEO Dan Winkelman hopes that as many people as possible in the region choose to get vaccinated.
“The benefits of getting the vaccine far outweigh the risks of having a horrible, deadly disease like COVID,” Winkelman said during the virtual town hall.
YKHC has enough vaccine that it has been able to repeatedly expand the pool of residents who qualify for vaccinations.
The CDC is saying that the only people who should not get the vaccine are people who develop a severe allergic reaction to the first dose, and anyone with a known allergy to an ingredient in the vaccine.