The side effects of the Covid-19 vaccine, ranging from fever and chills to headaches and joint pain, may prevent some doctors and nurses from working, amid a national influx of hospitalizations.
Health systems are preparing to vaccinate key hospital staff with Pfizer and Moderna injections, which could begin shipping to the United States in a few weeks, pending emergency authorizations.
Earlier this week, U.S. federal advisers recommended that health care workers be immunized first, along with residents of long-term care facilities. For hospitals, this can lead to significant scheduling problems at a time when many are filling up. More than 100,000 Americans were hospitalized with the virus on Wednesday, according to data from the Colloid Monitoring Project.
Service providers will have to remove medical staff from work in vaccination rooms. And if side effects occur, they can lose key workers in a matter of days. To overcome this, some hospitals plan to stagger staff to keep units covered. Others are investigating whether workers are given vaccines at the end of shifts before they have a few days off.
However, it is difficult to know what to expect without seeing complete data from the large clinical trials of Pfizer and Moderna, said Paul Bidinger, vice president of emergency preparedness at Massachusetts General Hospital.
“It’s a little easier to create a model of how we should stagger employee vaccinations when we know how often (side effects) occur and how severe they are,” Bidinger said. Plans could change when more solid data is available, he added.
Although drug companies have yet to release the full results of major trials, the revelation of previous tests in recent press releases provides insight into their safety profiles.
Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech said on November 18 that no serious security issues had been identified in their late trial. Among participants who received a two-dose vaccine regimen, 3.8 percent experienced fatigue and 2 percent had headaches. Older adults reported fewer minor side effects. In a previous study, companies identified cases of mild to moderate fever.
Moderna, for its part, said on November 16 that it had also failed to identify serious security concerns in the late-stage trial. Mild to moderate side effects include 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 are very confident that we have not seen cases of things we would not have expected,” said Buddy Kritsch, director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Research Program, which is conducting Covid-19 vaccine testing. “We see profiles of side effects that are common with other vaccines we use.
A small part
Only a handful of those receiving the coronavirus vaccine will experience side effects, according to Kritch, who also serves as lead researcher for Modern and Johnson & Johnson.
Remember, “not 100 percent of people have a fever and chills,” Kritch said Thursday during a media panel hosted by the Infectious Diseases Association of America, of which he is a member.
However, the potential for side effects to be severe enough to put healthcare workers out of work needs to be increased before the vaccination campaign can begin, Krich said.
If the opportunity is not communicated effectively, he added, hospitals could be left without staff. At the same time, medical professionals should also learn to distinguish between the side effects of the vaccine and the symptoms of Covid-19, as they are highly exposed to the virus.
“We have to be somewhat strategic in terms of who gets the vaccine, so we work with clinical leaders in those areas to make sure they deploy their healthcare staff,” said Jeananmari Meyer, head of infection prevention at The University of Utah University said health at a news conference Thursday.
Hospitals generally plan to prioritize staff working directly with coronavirus patients because they are at greatest risk of contracting the disease in the workplace.
Bidinger fears that health professionals experiencing unexpected symptoms may panic when they think vaccines are deficient, leading to even greater mistrust among the 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 is a good thing and that it actually means that the vaccine helps us to be more immune,” he said.