Talk to your doctor if you have questions, but for nearly all Americans, even those with allergies, the vaccine is safe.

Jessica Ball, M.S., RD
January 26, 2021
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Credit: Getty Images/Luis Alvarez

In many parts of the country, the COVID-19 vaccine is becoming more and more available. While only certain vulnerable groups or frontline workers may be eligible right now in your area, more people will become eligible as the vaccine continues to be distributed. (Learn more about how long it takes to become immune after getting the vaccine.)

Though top health officials, the CDC and the FDA have explained that the vaccine is generally regarded as safe, some people have more specific questions. In particular, those with allergies might be concerned about if they should get the COVID-19 vaccine, since there have been rare cases of people having a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine. We dove into the recommendations and research and talked with Amira Albert Roess, Ph.D., M.P.H., a professor of global health and epidemiology at George Mason University, to learn more.

Should you get the COVID-19 vaccine if you have allergies?

In short, unless you know you are allergic to an ingredient in the vaccine, yes. The CDC advises that even if you have a history of severe allergies unrelated to the vaccine, you should get vaccinated. This would include people with food or pet allergies, latex allergies, environmental allergies and more. In fact, the CDC states that it is safe for almost everyone with allergies to get the vaccine, unless you are allergic to polyethylene glycol (PEG), polysorbate or another ingredient in the vaccine. Per the CDC, "The two COVID-19 vaccines currently available in the United States do not contain eggs, preservatives or latex." If you've had allergies to other vaccines, they advise you to speak with your doctor to get a specific health recommendation for the COVID-19 vaccine.

The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology echoes the CDC and clarifies that "People with common allergies to medications, foods, inhalants, insects and latex are probably no more likely than the general public to have an allergic reaction to the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines."

Roess reassures that, "If you have a history of allergies to other vaccines or if you have concerns about getting the COVID-19 vaccine, you should consult your physician for guidance tailored specifically to you."

Symptoms to expect

As with most vaccines, there are some side effects that can come along with the COVID-19 vaccine—the CDC outlines what to expect after getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Common side effects include pain and swelling in the arm where you got the shot. They also state that chills, fever, tiredness and headache are common. These side effects are not a cause for concern, but rather they reflect your body developing an immune response. Roess adds that it is more common for people to experience symptoms after the second dose of the vaccine. Taking an over-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen or acetaminophen might help.

Any vaccine should be given in a health care setting where allergic reactions like anaphylaxis can be treated, but instances of allergic reactions are very low. "Over 20 million individuals have been vaccinated in the U.S. to date and the number of adverse effects are very low—less than half a percentage point," states Roess, "In contrast, many individuals who have been infected with COVID-19 experienced symptoms and long-term health effects. For those who want to return to life as 'normal,' getting the vaccine will get you closer to it."

In order to watch for and minimize risk of any severe allergic reactions, the CDC did put forth some guidance and recommendations for COVID-19 vaccination providers. They include monitoring people for 15 to 30 minutes after they get the vaccine, having medications like epinephrine and antihistamines on hand, and calling for emergency medical care for anyone having a severe allergic reaction for care and monitoring.

While some side effects are normal, if you're at home and noticing redness or tenderness that increases at your injection site after 24 hours, or are having side effects that are worrying you or don't seem to be going away after a few days, call your doctor.

In the rare chance that you do experience an allergic reaction to the vaccine, the CDC recommends that you do not get the second dose.

Bottom Line

Many people have questions regarding the COVID-19 vaccine that is rolling out across the country. The CDC, FDA and top health professionals attest to the safety of the vaccine and the importance of vaccination for public health. For people with allergies unrelated to specific ingredients in the vaccine, there should not be concern for an allergic reaction. If you have specific questions, consult your doctor for more individual advice.