Experts on vaccines and infectious diseases convened to answer common questions and concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine and its side effectsSouth Korea’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign has been making rapid progress. By Tuesday, 66.2 percent of the public had received at least one dose of a vaccine, leading the South Korean government to predict that the rate will reach 70 percent before the Chuseok holiday, which begins this weekend.
But there’s also growing concern and confusion about adverse reactions to the vaccines.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) organized a seminar on Tuesday with experts on adverse reactions to vaccines to talk about vaccine safety and the causes of various reactions. The participating experts were Kang Dong-yoon, a professor at the Drug Safety Monitoring Center at Seoul National University Hospital, and Choi Won-suk, a professor of infectious disease at Korea University Ansan Hospital.
After being inoculated with mRNA vaccines such as Pfizer and Moderna, some young people report feeling pain in their chest and numbness in their limbs. Doctors say that’s not a serious reaction, but those symptoms can continue for more than a week. What’s the longest such symptoms can last?
Kang: Numbness in the limbs [and other mild symptoms] can last for more than a week, but so far we haven’t seen any cases of those symptoms getting worse or leading to a functional disorder. The KDCA is tracking adverse reactions, but I think it will take some time before we learn the maximum length of those symptoms.
There are examples of people coming down with leukemia, menstrual irregularities and bowel necrosis after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. Are those connected with the vaccines?
Choi: The Korean Society of Hematology has already staked out its position on leukemia. Given the causes of acute leukemia and the time required for its occurrence, it’s very unlikely that there’s any causal link with vaccination in cases of acute leukemia being diagnosed following vaccination. As for menstruation, I’m told that an assessment is currently underway. But what I’ve heard so far is that there doesn’t seem to be much of a correlation. Bowel necrosis may be unfamiliar to the general public, but it actually occurs with some frequency in clinical work. It’s not as common as a cold, but it occurred pretty often even before vaccinations began.
When alcohol is consumed before or after vaccination, what impact does it have on developing immunity or suffering adverse reactions?
Kang: There’s no scientific basis for answering this question because no research has been conducted [into differences in the development of immunity] between people who drank alcohol before vaccination and those who did not. We recommend that people refrain from drinking since vaccinations should be received when a person is at their healthiest. While there’s no chance of consuming alcohol causing a severe adverse reaction, it could certainly have an impact on normal reactions such as muscle pain and fever.
Some say that ibuprofen-based painkillers should be taken after vaccination instead of acetaminophen-based painkillers because they can cause myocarditis or pericarditis.
Kang: It’s not true that acetaminophen (the drug in Tylenol) can cause myocarditis or pericarditis. That misconception appears to derive from the fact that ibuprofen (the drug in Advil) can be used with myocarditis or pericarditis since ibuprofen is an anti-inflammatory painkiller while acetaminophen is a fever-reducing painkiller. But while ibuprofen-based painkillers are used in treatment, taking one won’t prevent myocarditis or pericarditis.
There are apparently plans to vaccinate pregnant women against COVID-19. Is there precedent for that in other countries?
Choi: Vaccinating those who are pregnant is not prohibited in the US, Europe, or Japan or by the World Health Organization. In fact, the US is strongly recommending pregnant people to get vaccinated. Several studies show that pregnant people who contract COVID-19 are at greater risk of a serious or fatal case than women who aren’t pregnant. Nor is there any evidence showing that pregnant women suffer more adverse reactions when vaccinated. That’s why the US recommends that pregnant women get vaccinated.