Side effects of the Covid-19 vaccine, ranging from fever and cold to headache and joint pain, could prevent some doctors and nurses from working, amid a national surge in hospitals.
Health systems are preparing to vaccinate key hospital personnel with injections from Pfizer and Moderna, which could begin shipping to the United States in a few weeks, until emergency use authorizations are granted.
Earlier this week, U.S. federal advisers recommended that healthcare workers should be immunized first, along with residents of long-term care facilities. For hospitals, that could cause major scheduling problems at a time of high filling. More than 100,000 Americans were sent to the virus on Wednesday, according to data from the Covid Tracking Project.
Providers will need to move medical staff from work to vaccination rooms. And if side effects occur, they could lose key workers for a couple of days. To overcome this, some hospitals plan to surprise staff to keep units indoors. Others are exploring giving vaccines to employees at the end of their shifts, before they have a few days off.
Still, it’s hard to know what to expect without seeing complete data from Pfizer and Moderna’s large, advanced clinical trials, said Paul Biddinger, vice president of emergency preparedness at Massachusetts General Hospital.
“It’s a little easier to create a model of how we should prevent employee vaccinations when we know how often (side effects) are happening and how serious,” Biddinger said. Plans could change when more robust data becomes available, he added.
While drug companies have not yet released the full results of their biggest trials, previous trial disclosures in recent press releases provide some insight into their safety profiles.
Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech said on November 18 that no serious safety concerns were identified at their late-stage trial. Among participants who received the two-dose vaccine regimen, 3.8 percent experienced fatigue and 2 percent with headaches. Older adults reported fewer mild adverse events. In a previous trial, the companies identified cases of mild to moderate fever.
Moderna, for its part, said on November 16 that it also failed to identify serious safety issues in its late-stage trial. Mild to moderate side effects included fatigue (9.7 percent), muscle or joint pain (5.2 percent), headache (4.5 percent), and injection site pain (2.7 percent). Side effects were more common after the second dose of the two-dose vaccine.
“We have been reassured that we have not seen cases of things we would not expect,” said Buddy Creech, director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Research Program who is leading the Covid-19 vaccine trials. “We see profiles of side effects that are common in other vaccines we use.”
A small proportion
Only a small proportion of those receiving coronavirus vaccines will face side effects, according to Creech, who also serves as principal investigator for Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.
Remember, “not 100 percent of people have fever and cold,” Creech said Thursday during a media panel organized by the American Infectious Diseases Association, of which he is a member.
However, the potential for side effects to be strong enough to put healthcare workers out of commission should be raised before the vaccination campaign begins, Creech said.
If the possibility is not effectively communicated, he added, hospitals could be left unstaffed. At the same time, medical professionals should also be taught to distinguish the side effects of vaccine and the symptoms of COVID-19, given their high susceptibility to the virus.
“We’re going to have to be a bit strategic about who the vaccine is offered to, so we’re working with clinical leaders in those areas to make sure they graduate their healthcare staff,” “said Jeanmarie Mayer, head of infection prevention at the University of Utah Utah Health said Thursday at a news conference.
Generally, hospitals intend to prioritize staff who work directly with coronary virus patients, as they have the highest risk of catching the disease at work.
Biddinger Mass General fears that healthcare workers facing unexpected symptoms may panic into thinking that vaccines are defective, leading to even more mistrust among an already skeptical public.
“We try to be very honest about what people should expect when they get the vaccine, but also to remind them that it’s a good thing and that it actually means that vaccine helps us be more immune, “he said.