November 29, 2021

Serious COVID-19 vaccine side effects extremely rare in North Dakota – INFORUM

Just 50% of North Dakota’s eligible residents are fully immunized against the disease, ranking the state in the nation’s bottom 10. The lack of vaccine acceptance is primarily driven by vaccine skeptics, many of whom cite concerns over side effects as the reason they’re forgoing the shot.

But state immunization program manager Molly Howell said those who have rejected the vaccine for health reasons should be much more worried about COVID-19 putting them in the hospital.

As of Thursday, Sept. 2, more than 349,000 North Dakotans had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while just 1,128 “adverse events” — 254 of them considered “serious” — had been reported from the state to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine monitoring database known as the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, or VAERS.

A syringe and vial of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine sit on a table at Jamestown Regional Medical Center. John Steiner / Forum News Service

A syringe and vial of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine sit on a table at Jamestown Regional Medical Center. John Steiner / Forum News Service

WDAY logo

listen live

watch live

The database contains records of symptoms experienced by people after receiving the vaccine, but the CDC makes the disclaimer that the system does not determine whether the adverse events were actually caused by patients receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. For instance, some rare symptoms reported to the database, like femur fracture, gout and iron deficiency, are highly unlikely to have been caused by the vaccine.

As the agency notes on its website, reports may be incomplete or inaccurate and the “number of reports alone cannot be interpreted or used to reach conclusions about the existence, severity, frequency, or rates of problems associated with vaccines.”

The most common symptoms reported by North Dakota health care providers and vaccine recipients to the federal agency were headache, fatigue, injection site pain and fever — all minor side effects that could come with many types of vaccines, Howell said.

However, the vaccine has been linked to some serious but generally not life-threatening reactions, Howell said. An allergy to a component of the vaccine can cause someone to go into anaphylaxis, but it’s extremely rare — just five cases from North Dakota have been reported to VAERS. Howell notes that the only people ages 12 and up who shouldn’t take the vaccine are those with known allergies to polyethylene glycol or some other vaccine ingredient.

Myocarditis, inflammation in the heart, has been linked to the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines in very rare cases, and only two such events have occurred in North Dakota. Howell cited a recent study that found myocarditis is much more likely to occur as a symptom of COVID-19 than the vaccine.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been linked in rare cases to blood clotting and Guillain-Barré Syndrome, with eight events of the former and two of the latter reported from North Dakota to the CDC.

Though 32 deaths following vaccination in North Dakota have been reported to VAERS, none has been attributed to the COVID-19 shot on a death certificate, Howell said. The deaths included in the database are people who happened to die after receiving the vaccine, Howell said, noting that if you gave more than 300,000 North Dakotans a sugar pill, some of them are bound to die of unrelated causes shortly after taking it.

Overall, the rate of reporting to VAERS for the COVID-19 vaccine is slightly higher than other immunizations, but Howell said that could be a product of the unprecedented scrutiny placed on the jab and the massive scale on which it has been administered.

The bottom line is Food and Drug Administration officials considered adverse events and side effects when evaluating the vaccines and wouldn’t have approved the shots if they caused more harm than good, Howell said.

The vaccines offer significant protection against serious illness and hospitalization from COVID-19, Howell said. About one in 500 North Dakotans have died from the disease and many more have been hospitalized and experienced long-term symptoms, so it’s clear that the benefits of vaccination outweigh the minuscule risks of getting the shot, she added.