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Adverse reactions in 4 employees prompt Chicago-area hospital to pause COVID vaccinations

Chicago rolled out its first coronavirus vaccinations this week. A hospital north of Chicago has temporarily paused coronavirus vaccinations for its staff after four employees experienced adverse reactions that included tingling and elevated heart rates. Three are home and are doing fine, one is still receiving medical attention.

Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, IL, which is about 39 miles north of Chicago, temporarily paused injections of the Pfizer vaccine out of an abundance of caution, officials said in a statement. But the organization’s other sites, including eight more in Illinois and three in Wisconsin, were continuing vaccinations without disruption.

The medical center made a point that the four affected employees represent fewer than 0.15% of the approximately 3,000 who have so far received vaccinations across Advocate Aurora Health. The healthcare workers have been vaccinated since the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine became available earlier this week.

These incidents follow several in the UK and in Alaska where there have been adverse effects to the vaccine.

Officials said the pause in Libertyville will give them a chance to better understand why the adverse reactions may have occurred.

On Wednesday, state officials in Alaska reported that two healthcare workers in that state experienced allergic reactions to the Pfizer product.

One healthcare worker experienced a serious allergic reaction and was hospitalized after taking Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, state officials said Wednesday. The worker, who is middle-aged and had no previous history of allergies, had stabilized with treatment but was being kept in a Juneau hospital to be monitored for another day.

The worker received the vaccine Tuesday at Bartlett Regional Hospital. Ten minutes after taking the vaccine she “showed signs of an anaphylactic reaction, with increased heartbeat, shortness of breath and skin rash and redness,” according to Dr. Lindy Jones, the emergency room director at Bartlett. “She was given epinephrine and Benadryl, admitted to the hospital, and put on an intravenous epinephrine drip. Her reaction was serious but not life-threatening.”

The second employee experienced milder symptoms, including eye puffiness, lightheadedness, and a scratchy throat.

Approximately one-quarter of the 400 employees who made requests at the Alaska hospital have been vaccinated.

“We expected that a side effect like this could occur after reports of anaphylaxis were made in England after people there received the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine,” Alaska’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, said in a statement Wednesday. “All sites that are approved to provide vaccinations in Alaska must have medications on hand to deal with an allergic reaction and that was the case in Juneau.”

The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine received Food and Drug Administration approval earlier this month, with shipments starting Dec. 13 and vaccinations starting a day later.

On Friday the FDA approved a second vaccine, made by Moderna that is said to be highly effective against the virus.

Federal officials have announced arrangements for a total of 200 million doses of the Moderna product and 100 million doses of the Pfizer product to be shipped.

Illinois on Friday surpassed 15,000 recorded deaths since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, one week after the state’s death toll climbed above 14,000.

Walgreens and CVS Health predict the COVID-19 vaccine will be available to the public during the spring, and patients will most likely be able to make appointments to get the shots at pharmacies.

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