The U.S. government has recorded 29 severe allergic reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine but said the risks from the virus far outweigh concerns about the shots as officials prodded states to speed up the immunization effort even if it means busting through federal recommendations on whom to prioritize.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the risk of anaphylaxis applied to the Pfizer and Moderna shots and breaks down to a rate of 5.5 cases per 1 million doses, compared to 1.3 severe allergic reactions per 1 million doses of the flu shot.
The coronavirus rate “may seem high compared to flu vaccines but I want to reassure you this is still a rare outcome,” said Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
Dr. Messonnier said most of the U.S. recipients who had severe reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine had a history of allergies.
Vaccines are society’s best hope of getting the coronavirus down to manageable levels in 2021, though segments of the public are concerned about the shots’ safety or side effects. There is also a wide gulf between the number of distributed vaccines and the number of doses that have reached arms, flustering officials.
The federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices said health care workers and people in long-term care facilities should get the first round of shots, followed by people 75 and older and certain frontline workers.
Health Secretary Alex M. Azar II said those are sound guidelines but aren’t ironclad, as states struggle to get through health care workers who are busy with COVID-19 patients and work to ramp up a nursing-home immunization push.
The CDC guidelines “should never stand in the way of getting shots in arms,” Mr. Azar said. “The perfect cannot be the enemy of the good here.”
Federal and state leaders are pleading with Americans to get vaccinated once it is their turn. The country needs 70% to 80% of the country to get immunization to build up widespread immunity and reel in the pandemic, experts say.
The prospect of allergic reactions won’t help their cause but officials urged Americans to maintain perspective. The shots have been given to millions of people without problems and COVID-19 is killing over 2,500 people in the U.S. per day.
“Anaphylaxis after COVID vaccination remains rare,” Dr. Messonnier said.
Army Gen. Gustave Perna said 20 million doses have been delivered to 13,000 locations through the country.
Only 4.8 million doses have actually been administered, however, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracker.
Officials say there is a reporting lag. Mr. Azar pointed a natural slowdown around the winter holidays and said that nursing homes are gaining momentum in their push to inoculate residents and staff.
Governors are mulling ways to penalize hospitals for failing to move faster or moving beyond prescribed priority groups. It’s been messy, with reports of confusing sign-up portals and long lines of older adults at sites in Florida.
Hoping to ease the process, Mr. Azar announced an early launch of a partnership with 19 pharmacy chains that will let vaccines flow to up to 40,000 sites and be distributed through an appointment system.
“This partnership allows states to allocate vaccines directly to these partners, and these partners can then administer vaccines to particular groups, like those over a certain age or in certain occupations, and eventually to the general public,” Mr. Azar said. “The plan had been to ramp up this partnership over time, because vaccine supply would not be sufficient to spread across all of the pharmacy partners right away. But, to help give states as many options as possible for vaccine administration, we’re launching the program this week and states can choose particular partners to send vaccines to now.”
The vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna require two doses a few weeks apart. Administration officials are eager to see data from a late-stage trial of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires only one dose and would speed up the campaign.
Moncef Slaoui, the operation’s science adviser, said the J&J vaccine is on track for emergency-use approval before the end of the month.