Can I have the COVID-19 vaccine if I have a food allergy?
As vaccination programmes step up around the world, New Food spoke to Lynne Regent of Anaphylaxis Campaign to offer clarity around some misconceptions related to food allergies and COVID-19 jabs.
Are the approved COVID-19 jabs safe for those with food allergies?
As most of the world sits in the grip of another devastating wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccines are offering a glimmer of hope that some form of normality may well return soon.
In the UK, three vaccines have currently been approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, made by Moderna, Pfizer/BioNTech, and Oxford/AstraZeneca. In the US, only Pfizer/BioNtech and Moderna have been approved by the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA), while the European Medicines Agency has given emergency approval for the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.
Although a commendable achievement, the speed at which these vaccines have been approved and passed by regulatory bodies has caused some concern. Consequently, scientists have moved quickly to allay fears that these vaccines have skipped any of the rigour that usually comes with vaccine approval.
However, there has been some confusion over whether the three vaccines approved in the UK are safe for those with food allergies. New Food spoke with Lynne Regent (LR), CEO of Anaphylaxis Campaign, to find out more and offer some clarity.
What problems can some food allergies cause with vaccines?
LR: The viruses used to make flu vaccinations are often grown in a hen’s egg, although the amount of ovalbumin (egg protein) in the final vaccinations is minute and most people with an egg allergy can safely receive these vaccines.
Unlike most flu vaccinations, the COVID-19 vaccines are not grown in hen’s egg. Therefore, the finished vaccine does not contain any traces of egg at all. Neither the Pfizer/BioNTech or the AstraZeneca or Moderna vaccine contain any egg proteins and none of the vaccines are contraindicated in egg allergy.
Are the three vaccines approved by the MHRA in the UK safe for those with food allergies?
LR: As the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has continued their close surveillance of the vaccine roll out, they have now advised that individuals with a history of allergy or anaphylaxis to any food can receive any COVID-19 vaccine, as long as they are not known to be allergic to any component (excipient) of the vaccine. None of the currently approved UK COVID-19 vaccines contain any food proteins whatsoever and there is no reason to suspect that they would present any increased risk to individuals with food allergies.
What was the cause of the initial concern over the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine?
LR: When the Pfizer vaccine was initially rolled out in the UK, it was reported that three healthcare professionals experienced adverse reactions. As a precaution, the MHRA advised that anyone with a history of anaphylaxis to a food/drug/vaccine should not be given the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. Following extensive investigation, the MHRA have revised its guidance to make it very clear that food allergy or food anaphylaxis is not a contraindication to the Pfizer/BionTech vaccine.
As a consequence of the guidance revisions, our helpline has been incredibly busy because people are still very worried. We have been working hard to support individuals and healthcare professionals, through ensuring we have the most up to date information in our dedicated COVID-19 resource hub on our website.
Does the Anaphylaxis Campaign work with regulators and manufacturers when it comes to vaccines?
LR: We work closely with the MHRA , and if you go onto our website, you will find a wealth of information to help people with allergies and anaphylaxis navigate COVID-19 and having the vaccination.
We have worked closely with clinical experts at the British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology (BSACI) and Allergy UK to develop a detailed frequently asked questions based on enquiries received through our helpline.
Would you advise somebody with a food allergy to get the vaccine?
LR: Having a food allergy is not a contraindication to receiving any of the currently approved UK COVID-19 vaccinations and it is important that all people, including individuals with food allergies, have the correct and most up to date information to ensure they are making an informed decision.
Lynne Regent joined the Anaphylaxis Campaign as CEO in October 2008. Prior to this, she spent 30 years working in the NHS in the UK. During 2013-2017 she led the UK patient group involvement in iFAAM which was the largest ever European-wide study of the severely allergic population to be undertaken, and examined an integrated approach to food allergens and allergy risk management.
Allergy UK, Anaphylaxis Campaign, AstraZeneca, BioNTech, British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology (BSACI), Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), Moderna, Oxford University, Pfizer