Experts: No need to panic about vaccine side effects

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There is no need to hit the panic button over scattered reports claiming adverse reactions to Covid-19 vaccines that are being rolled out, say medical experts.

The focus, they said, should instead be on the wellbeing of the global population and how the vaccines could shield them from infection.

Epidemiologist Professor Datuk Dr Awang Bulgiba Awang Mahmud said all vaccines and medication had side effects, which occur because humans can be diverse in their response to a vaccine or a medicine.

“The question is whether the benefits of a vaccine or medicine outweigh the risk
of side effects and whether the side effects are transient or permanent.

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“If the vaccine is very effective and the side effects are relatively minor, affect a very small proportion of the population and are transient, one can accept that some people will suffer some side effects.

“The majority, however, will enjoy the benefits of the vaccine,” he told the New Straits Times.

He was commenting on reports of how some individuals had experienced adverse reactions to vaccines that are being rolled out globally.

CNN yesterday reported that a healthcare worker in Alaska, the United States, suffered an allergic reaction to Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine and later reported symptoms that included shortness of breath and elevated heart rate.

The case is believed to be the first allergic reaction to the vaccine to be reported in the US.

On Dec 10, health authorities in the United Kingdom cautioned that those with a “significant history of allergic reactions” should not be given the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine after two healthcare workers experienced symptoms a day after receiving a shot.

In Peru, the government suspended the trial for the Sinopharm vaccine from China after a participant reportedly experienced decreased strength in the legs and other symptoms.

On Nov 27, Malaysia announced that it had, through the Health Ministry, inked a deal with Pfizer to obtain 12.8 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine to immunise 6.4 million Malaysians.

The doses will reach the country in the first quarter of next year.

On the Pfizer vaccine, Dr Awang Bulgiba said it had already received Emergency Use Authorisation from several countries.

This, he said, meant that regulatory bodies had already scrutinised the safety and efficacy data from the vaccine’s Phase 3 trials and accepted that the vaccine was safe enough to be administered.

“Phase 3 trial results for the Pfizer vaccine seem to indicate that, on the whole, the vaccine was well tolerated by trial participants and the side effects have generally been as expected for a vaccine.

“Of course, we will still need to monitor all recipients of Covid-19 vaccines that are administered in Malaysia.”

He said when penicillin was first introduced, a number of people reported allergic reactions, too.

“Some of those who were allergic to penicillin were also allergic to other antibiotics, but penicillin is still in use today.

“So although people who have a history of allergies will do well to be cautious, it does not mean we should completely reject any medicine or vaccine that causes some allergic reactions.

“If we reject every medicine or vaccine just because a small number of people suffer allergic reactions, it will be difficult for us to have any treatments or protection against most diseases.”

He said as with any medicine or vaccine, people who have a history of allergic reactions or history of anaphylaxis were cautioned against rushing to get themselves vaccinated.

“That is quite normal,” he said.

Malaysian Public Health Physicians Association president Datuk Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar said Malaysia had until next year to closely monitor and follow-up on the side effects and complications of Covid-19 vaccines.

He said although there were reports of allergic reactions, they did not provide sufficient justification for Malaysia to stop the vaccination programme or the procurement of the vaccines.

“The government should proceed with the plan, but it must have a close monitoring mechanism starting from now, during and after the vaccination programme.

“The government must be alert and inform the public of any latest development.”

He said the government must ensure back-up and emergency plans were in place when the vaccination programme commences next year.

“This is needed, especially for places far from main hospitals.”

He said the public should not panic and should instead get the right information from the authorities or professionals. Nst

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