Vaccination against COVID-19 and Food Allergies
There are many questions circulating about the various COVID-19 vaccines that are permitted in Canada, and their effects on people living with food allergies. Let’s take a look at the recommendations…
Frequency of Allergic Reactions to Vaccines
At the very beginning of the vaccination campaign, Britain recommended not to vaccinate people living with severe allergies. However, an analysis of cases where people actually had an allergic reaction has removed this contraindication.1 The risk of an allergic reaction to the various COVID-19 vaccines remains very low at 11.1 cases of anaphylaxis per million doses. By comparison, the risk of an allergic reaction to the flu vaccine is 1.3 cases per million doses. 1
Allergies and Contraindications to the COVID-19 Vaccine
According to The Association of Allergists and Immunologists of Québec (AAIQ), “the only contraindication to receiving COVID-19 vaccines is an allergy to their components”. The vaccines that are currently approved (Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Janssen) do not contain food or animal proteins, antibiotics, preservatives, or latex. 1
For each approved COVID-19 vaccine, here is a list of ingredients that have been associated with allergic reactions when found in other products 3:
- Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine: polyethylene glycol (PEG)
- Moderna COVID-19 vaccine: polyethylene glycol (PEG) and tromethamine (trometamol or Tris)
- AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine: polysorbate 80
The AAIQ states that anyone living with a known allergy to polyethylene glycol should not receive the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. The AAIQ also indicates that the AstraZeneca and Janssen COVID-19 vaccines contain polysorbate, an ingredient similar to polyethylene glycol. Therefore, for the time being, the association recommends that people allergic to polyethylene glycol avoid the AstraZeneca and Janssen vaccines as well. 1
For a complete ingredient list of the various COVID-19 vaccines, visit COVID-19 Vaccines – Canada.ca
If you want to know what other products may contain these allergens, consult this table on the Government of Canada website.
Known Food Allergies and COVID-19 Vaccines
The vaccines mentioned above are not contraindicated for people who have been diagnosed with food allergies, severe respiratory allergies (including asthma), insect allergies, antibiotic or anti-inflammatory drug allergies (including aspirin and ibuprofen), latex allergies or anesthetics allergies.1
The Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (CSACI) states that a person with a food allergy “can get [the COVID-19] vaccine in the usual way and in a regular setting without any extra safety precautions”. 2
Should I consult a health care professional if I have a possible allergy to an ingredient in a COVID-19 vaccine, or if I have had a severe reaction to another vaccine in the past?
If you believe you are allergic to PEG, polysorbate 80, or any other ingredient in a COVID-19 vaccine, the CSACI recommends that you be referred to a qualified allergy specialist who can correctly diagnose your allergy.
If you have been diagnosed with an allergy to PEG, polysorbate 80, or any other ingredient in any of the COVID-19 vaccines, your allergist may be able to help you find a safe way to be immunized against COVID-19. 2
If you have had a severe reaction to a vaccine in the past (excluding COVID-19 vaccines), the CSACI recommends “that you ask your healthcare provider whether the vaccine you reacted to contains any similar ingredients to the COVID-19 vaccine you are scheduled to be getting.” 2
What if you reacted to the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine?
According to the CSACI, “anyone who has had a severe reaction to one of the COVID-19 vaccines should be referred to a trained allergy specialist to diagnose whether it was an allergic reaction. If it was, there are possible options for the second dose. The allergist may give you the second dose of the vaccine safely using a procedure called a “graded administration”, or may recommend a different COVID-19 vaccine.” 2
1- Vaccine Allergy, The Association of Allergists and Immunologists of Québec
2- COVID-19 Vaccines FAQ, Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology
3- Recommendations on the use of COVID-19 vaccines by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI): https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/immunization/national-advisory-committee-on-immunization-naci/recommendations-use-covid-19-vaccines.html#t3