‘We’ve been forgotten’: AstraZeneca rollback leaves out those allergic to mRNA vaccines


Jomar Manzano says if he takes a Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, he could die.

“I felt itchy, I felt hot — I was in the hospital so a team of nurses and doctors descended on me. They told me I had ‘died’ for about 30 seconds,” the 35-year-old based in Toronto recalled about the first time he went into anaphylactic shock after ingesting a compound called Polyethylene glycol, or PEG.

Commonly found in medication, makeup and even some foods, the nanoparticle is also in the mRNA-based COVID-19 shots.

Manzano planned to avoid the allergen by booking a shot of AstraZeneca but, on May 11, when Ontario announced it would be suspending first doses of the drug, he was left scrambling.

Jomar Manzano, a 35-year-old based in Toronto, is allergic to a compound called Polyethylene glycol, or PEG, which is found in mRNA vaccines.

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“When they said they cancelled it, it made me so anxious,” Manzano told Global News.

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Another alternative to an mRNA vaccine is the one produced by Johnson & Johnson; however, those vaccines also hit a snag after Health Canada learned of a possible manufacturing issue.

“I just want my shot … and it’s been an uphill battle,” Manzano said.

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According to the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (CSACI), PEG has been known to trigger anaphylaxis — a potentially life-threatening reaction that can cause rashes, plummeting blood pressure, shortness of breath and a fast heartbeat. In Canada, the latest data from early April revealed approximately 10 in every 1,000,000 people vaccinated with a COVID-19 shot, have had an anaphylactic reaction.

“We actually don’t understand why and how it causes reactions in most patients,” said Harold Kim, former president of CSACI. “It’s certainly an area of interest in research that will be happening over the next several months and maybe even years.”

More often than not, an allergy to PEG won’t lead to a severe reaction,” Kim added.

“You know, in our practice, we’ve had probably thousands of our patients who are allergic receiving the vaccine. And I don’t I don’t think we’ve had a severe allergic reaction with any of our patients,” Kim said.

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But Manzano said he won’t risk going into anaphylactic shock again.

“We have been forgotten. I want the province to have an option for people who cannot take Pfizer or Moderna,” he said of only being able to access mRNA vaccines.

Global News reached out to the Ontario government for comment but did not hear back by publication time.

Regardless, Kim said an allergist will be able to help by getting their hands on a viral vector vaccine.

“Even though for the general population, we’re not able to get it, we would try to get, you know, a single dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine through our local public health group and for that specific patient,” Kim said.

Click to play video: 'AstraZeneca pause a surprise to those administering vaccines'

AstraZeneca pause a surprise to those administering vaccines

AstraZeneca pause a surprise to those administering vaccines

If someone was unsure what their allergy is or is worried about having a reaction to a specific vaccine, Kim says there is a plan for that as well.

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“The appropriate approach would be if the patient wants to get the vaccine, then what we would do is have them challenge. And what we mean by challenge is to gradually increase the dose. So start with 10 per cent of the dose and then every half hour or so give gradually increasing doses until they get the full vaccine,” Kim said.

Hearing about this approach, Manzano said he would work with his doctor to get an allergist, but worries medical appointment backlogs because of the pandemic could mean more waiting.

“I am in an industry that doesn’t allow me to work from home all the time,” he said. “I am with people, in their homes and now I am putting myself and them at a greater risk for this virus.”

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