In The News: COVID-19

Coping With COVID-19: A Mom’s Perspective | Charleston Allergy & Asthma

If you’ve managed to escape the grips of COVID-19 so far or don’t personally know anyone who’s tested positive for it, it can be hard to imagine the challenges of coping with it day-to-day. Yet, in light of the seriousness of the pandemic, we’re sharing the story of a mom whose life and family were impacted by the virus. It’s the story of our very own Dr. Carolyn Word.

Dr. Word’s COVID-19 Experience 

Despite being cautious, the majority of her immediate family came down with COVID-19, leading them to spend a total of 26 days in quarantine. 

It all started when her three-year-old daughter, although masked all day at preschool, was exposed. Dr. Word said, “We put her in quarantine and decided to test the whole family in an abundance of caution.” She, her husband and her other two children initially tested negative. 

Even still, everyone except her husband Robert got sick. He was spared because the decision was made for him to live apart from the family so he could return to work sooner. The rest of the family progressively fell ill. Symptoms ranged from cough, dry throat, and nasal congestion to fever, fatigue and headache. Dr. Word also experienced loss of smell and taste.

Beyond the physical symptoms, other challenges came with the situation as well. The family was separated due to quarantine, which was especially difficult around Thanksgiving and Christmastime. For Dr. Word, there was also the anxiety of trying to balance caring for her first priority—her children—while still trying to work via telehealth. And, that’s not to mention an often-overlooked effect of isolation. Dr. Word said, “The moment I knew we had a positive COVID test, there was a shame that came with it, as if we’d done something wrong. And I’m a rule follower.” 

Despite the challenges, though, the family tried to stay positive, eat healthy, play card games, enjoy crafts and do their best to take care of one another. Now that her family has recovered from COVID-19, Dr. Word has some words of wisdom to share.

 

Dealing With COVID-19: What You Can Do

If you come down with COVID-19, keep these three things in mind. 

  1. Make Healthy Choices: Be as active as possible, do deep breathing exercises for good lung expansion, drink lots of water, make healthy food choices and take vitamins. Besides that, do your best to keep your mind sharp with reading and other activities and keep your spirits up by video chatting with family and friends. 
  2. Be Prepared: While you don’t need to hoard supplies, you should be sure that you have the vitamins and medications you need on hand, especially if you have a condition such as asthma. It’s also wise to have a pulse oximeter, which measures your oxygen levels and can help you monitor the status of your health. 
  3. After COVID, Consider Plasma Donation: Some who recover from COVID-19 have antibodies in their blood, which can help people currently fighting the illness to fight off infection more efficiently. Once you have fully recovered from COVID-19, consider donating convalescent plasma as Dr. Word did. 

While there’s still a lot of mystery surrounding COVID-19, we do know that everything from its severity to the recovery process varies from person to person. Therefore, it’s important to continue to be extra cautious (for ourselves and others), and to know how best to handle it if impacted by the virus. From everyone here at Charleston Allergy & Asthma, stay safe and, if you have concerns or need information about coping with asthma and COVID-19, don’t hesitate to reach out

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What You Should Know About COVID-19 & Other Vaccines

While always a topic of interest, the COVID-19 pandemic has created more conversations than ever before surrounding vaccination. Specifically, many people are curious about the history of vaccines, how the coronavirus vaccine works, and how it compares to others. Dr. Meredith Moore, a board-certified allergist/immunologist on our Charleston Allergy & Asthma team offered some insight into these important topics. 

A Brief History of Vaccines

In 1796, Edward Jenner created the first successful vaccine using material from cowpox to ward off smallpox. 1885 saw the creation of the rabies vaccine and, thereafter, as a result of the dawn of bacteriology (the study of bacteria), many advancements were made through the 1930s. These included the development of tetanus, typhoid, cholera and tuberculosis vaccines. Then, in the ‘40s, the flu vaccine became available. Currently, it’s one of more than 20 vaccines that are in routine clinical use in the U.S. today. 

How were these and other vaccines made and how do they work? Many were created using a difficult, time-consuming process that involved:

  1. Growing enough of a dangerous virus or bacteria to mass-produce a vaccine
  2. Either inactivating it so that it can’t cause illness or purifying and stabilizing a portion of it so that it can be administered to patients

By safely introducing the immune system to the virus or bacteria, if and when real exposure happens, the immune system recognizes it as foreign material and aggressively launches an attack, producing antibodies to fight off infection. Is the same true of the COVID-19 vaccine?

What Makes the COVID-19 Vaccine Different

There are at least three things that set the COVID-19 vaccine apart. 

  1. Although having been researched for decades, the coronavirus vaccine uses a new technology with mRNA, which is a code that helps the body to produce proteins capable of fighting the virus. The use of this technology eliminated the need to grow the SARS-CoV2-2 virus to produce the vaccine, which allowed for rapid and relatively inexpensive production.
  2. mRNA is nothing more than a code, similar to a recipe card with instructions for generating the proteins needed to combat the SARS-CoV2-2 virus. Since it doesn’t contain a live virus, it’s safer than its counterparts because it can’t cause mutations. 
  3. The proteins in the coronavirus vaccine remain stable and potent in the vials without the help of the preservatives, adjuvants or antibiotics needed for other vaccines.

These positive advancements can give you peace of mind if you choose to be vaccinated. But you may still have questions. 

COVID-19 Vaccine FAQs

You’re not alone if you’ve wondered about any of the following. Here are answers to some common questions about the COVID vaccine. 

  1. How effective is it and how long does it last? The vaccine can provide up to 95% protection against COVID-19 and can reduce the severity of illness in those who still get infected. However, right now, it’s not certain how long this protection lasts.
  2. Why are some COVID-19 vaccines administered in two doses? The first dose exposes the immune system and the second boosts your antibody levels and immune response. The vaccine is only partially effective within two weeks of the first dose of the mRNA vaccines. Full effectiveness is reached seven days after receiving the second vaccine for most people, which highlights the importance of receiving both doses.
  3. Is vaccination necessary if I’ve already had COVID? Because we don’t know how long immunity lasts it is recommended that you still receive the vaccine. Plus, if you were to become infected again, even asymptomatically, you could pass the infection to others. The vaccine would reduce that risk. 
  4. Are masks, social distancing and other precautions necessary after vaccination? Besides the uncertainty surrounding how long immunity lasts, it’s good practice to keep taking precautions. If a significant portion of the population were to publicly abandon the recommended safety measures before widespread vaccination, this could perpetuate the spread of the disease.

To stay informed as more information becomes available, visit the CDC’s vaccine FAQs. It’s also recommended that you regularly check for updates on South Carolina’s vaccination plan so that you can make arrangements to get your vaccine as soon as you’re eligible.

 

Sources: 

https://www.historyofvaccines.org/timeline/all
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/vaccine-benefits.html
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/faq.html
https://scdhec.gov/covid19/covid-19-vaccine

 

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Charleston Allergy & Asthma is offering allergy testing for the COVID-19 vaccine

If you’ve had a history of allergic reactions to vaccines or tend to be skeptical of vaccination side effects, you may have quite a few questions regarding the newly available COVID-19 vaccinations. 

While our team of board-certified allergists advises the majority of our patients to move forward with scheduling their vaccination appointments as they are able, there are some who have experienced allergic reactions to vaccines in the past and will need to proceed with caution. In order to best serve these patients along with other Lowcountry residents concerned about vaccine reactions, our team is excited to announce we are offering allergy testing specifically for the COVID-19 vaccine!

We took a moment to get all of the details from Dr. Meredith Moore, a board-certified allergist at Charleston Allergy & Asthma, to learn more about the vaccine and to find out who might want to consider an allergy test before moving forward with their vaccination appointment: 

Why would someone want to get tested to see if they might have an allergic reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine? 

Individuals should be evaluated by a board-certified allergist/immunologist if they have a history of severe allergic reaction to any vaccine in the past, any reaction within 4 hours of receiving the first COVID shot, or an allergic reaction to any of the components of the COVID-19 vaccine. At this time, it is not known which COVID-19 vaccine component(s) is/are causing allergic reactions. Polyethylene glycol is an ingredient in the mRNA vaccines and has been associated with anaphylaxis. Polysorbate 80 is used in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and can cross-react with polyethylene glycol.

 

How will Charleston Allergy & Asthma test for COVID-19 vaccine allergic reactions?

We use a protocol that was developed by a team of allergists/immunologists specifically for COVID-19 vaccination. The protocol tests for immediate skin test reactivity to the vaccine components polyethylene glycol, polysorbate 20 and polysorbate 80. We use both skin prick testing and intradermal testing. With skin prick testing, we introduce the testing material to the immune system just under the skin. There is no bleeding and only minimal discomfort from the testing device that lasts for a few seconds. Intradermal testing uses a very small needle to inject the antigen under the skin. 

The tests can be administered at any Charleston Allergy & Asthma location. The test results are available immediately when the test is completed. The test can take up to three hours to complete. 

 

If someone tests positive for an allergic reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine, what should their next steps be? Will they be allergic to all three that are currently available (Pfizer, Modern, J&J)?

Patients will be tested for different ingredients of the vaccines. If you test positive for one component, but negative for a different component then that may suggest that one of the vaccines may be better tolerated than the others. In that case, you and your board-certified allergist may decide to proceed with vaccination to a certain brand of COVID-19 vaccine.

To note, there have been fewer reports of severe allergic reactions to the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. However, most of this data is provided through reporting which may not be fully accurate. Additionally, only a fraction of the final doses have been administered so these numbers may change over time. It is recommended that individuals receive whichever vaccine is available unless they are at risk for a severe allergic reaction in which case it is recommended they seek evaluation by a board-certified allergist. 

 

Are there any risks associated with getting tested to see if an individual is allergic to the COVID-19 vaccine?

As with any allergy testing, there is a rare risk of an allergic reaction. Our experienced staff monitor patients for any sign of allergic reaction throughout the procedure.

 

If someone does not test positive for allergies to the COVID-19 vaccine, should they move forward with receiving the vaccine?

This will be a decision made between the patient and their board-certified allergist. It involves weighing multiple factors such as the severity of any prior allergic reactions, any medical condition that may increase the risk of an allergic reaction, their exposure risk to COVID-19 infection, availability of the vaccine in locations experienced in treating allergic reactions and the patient’s personal preferences.

 

How effective are the COVID-19 vaccines that are currently available (Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson)?

The vaccines currently available in the U.S. have been shown to reduce COVID-19 infection by 72 – 95% and prevent 86 – 100% of severe infections.

 

What are some of the most common side effects experienced after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine? 

Most people experience mild side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine that are similar to common side effects from other vaccines. Most people, if they have an allergic reaction, will experience the following: 

  • Headache (22% of recipients)
  • Tiredness (17% of recipients)
  • Dizziness (17% of recipients)
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Muscle aches

These side effects are a sign that your immune system is recognizing the vaccine and developing protective antibodies. These symptoms generally go away on their own in 1-2 days. For some people, these common side effects are more intense after the second dose of a 2-shot series.

 

What are the most common allergic reactions that individuals are having to the COVID-19 vaccine? 

According to a paper published in the Journal of American Medical Association which tracked reactions in Mass General Brigham employees, the most common allergic reactions were rash, itching, hives, swelling that was not at the injection site and respiratory symptoms (Blumenthal). This occurred in a total of 2% of vaccinated individuals. Anaphylaxis, a more severe allergic reaction, occurred in 0.025% of vaccine recipients (16 people out of 64,900).

 

How serious is anaphylactic shock?

When someone experiences anaphylaxis they have allergic symptoms in multiple organs. These patients have difficulty breathing, low blood pressure or severe gastrointestinal symptoms in addition to hives or itchy rashes. Anaphylaxis can be life-threatening if the heart or lungs are severely involved. Fortunately, for those who experience anaphylaxis, injectable epinephrine is very effective at reversing anaphylaxis if used early. Among the Mass General Brigham employees, 16 developed anaphylaxis but only 1 required hospitalization. The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System has received reports of 3.8 anaphylaxis reactions per 1,000,000 doses of mRNA vaccines.

 

How are reactions treated at COVID-19 vaccination sites? Is every site equipped to handle reactions?

The CDC has created a Checklist of Best Practices for Vaccination Clinics Held at Satellite, Temporary or Off-Site Locations. This checklist includes expectations that vaccine providers are CPR certified and that an emergency medical kit is on-site. Most vaccine sites are advising patients to wait 15 minutes after receiving the vaccine to ensure they are in a location where medical assistance can be provided.

 

What signs should an individual look for or consider as they gauge their risk of an allergic reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine?

Most severe allergic reactions start within 15 minutes of the vaccine being administered. Common symptoms are hives, cough, shortness of breath, fast heart rate or nausea. Let a vaccine provider know if you experience these symptoms.  

 

Are there any additional details to note on allergy testing for the COVID-19 vaccine?

The COVID-19 skin testing protocol was developed by experts in the allergy and immunology field using our current understanding of the ingredients of the COVID-19 vaccines. The protocol has not been extensively evaluated so we do not know how reliable the test protocol is. The testing results will provide you and your allergist information that can be incorporated in decision-making regarding COVID-19 vaccine administration.

 

If you have a history of allergic reactions to vaccines or components of the COVID-19 vaccine, our team of board-certified allergists recommends you consult with your healthcare provider before receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. To find out if it’s recommended that you receive allergy testing for the COVID-19 vaccine, request an appointment with one of our board-certified allergists today.

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