Vancouver Island woman grateful to be vaccinated, despite rare severe allergic reaction

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A Vancouver Island woman who had a severe allergic reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine wants to share her experience.

Annie Taal, a 32-year-old Victoria resident had the reaction after her first dose, but said she is grateful to be vaccinated.

“I have no regrets at all. I really don’t. I was safe and cared for and I personally believe those mechanisms were also in place during the production of the vaccines,” she said. “I understand the fear and uncertainty many people are feeling, but the fact-based evidence shows us the vaccines are safe and they are the best way for us to move forward through the pandemic.”

First diagnosed with serious allergies as a teenager, Taal spoke with her doctor and sister, a public health nurse, about whether she should receive the vaccine. They all determined that the risks of COVID-19 far outweighed any risk associated with the vaccine.

“I was super pumped about getting vaccinated for COVID and had no concerns. I have never reacted to a vaccine and I have had many throughout my life,” she said.

Taal received her vaccine in late May. After the procedure she waited for 15 minutes as recommended and noticed her mouth felt slightly itchy at the 7-8 minute mark. She left the facility to drop something off less than a minute away and started to feel unwell.

“I couldn’t take a deep breath. I was winded and felt like I had a sunburn,” she said.

Taal returned to the vaccination clinic and was taken into a private area where nurses determined she was having an anaphylactic reaction.

“They were so wonderful and wanted to ensure I wasn’t having a panic attack, which can resemble an allergic reaction. They calmed me down, called my sister and administered epinephrine. Paramedics then took me to Victoria General Hospital for observation,” Taal said.

From there, she was referred to an immunologist to determine if she could receive a second dose of vaccine. They used a technique called graded-dose administration, where the full dose is separated into smaller doses and provided over a span of time with close monitoring. Taal is now fully vaccinated.

She was also asked to participate in a study of people who have experienced an allergic reaction to a COVID-19 vaccine.

“I am grateful to be part of this study because we really don’t know yet why some people have these rare reactions,” she said. “If I can help just one person feel safer about getting their shot, it will be worth it. I knew I was being managed in the safest way possible and the medical experts thought me getting fully vaccinated was the safest option for me long term. They are doing the work and the studies and that made me feel better.”

Dr. Michael Benusic, a medical health officer with Island Health confirmed a very small number of people will react to the vaccine.

“Severe allergic reactions to COVID-19 vaccines are very rare – about one in 100,000 people will react. Our vaccination sites are set up to identify and respond to this when it occurs, which is exactly what happened with this patient,” he said. “We also have a great team of immunologists who determine if vaccines can be safely provided after this occurs.”

“I was one of the one in 100,000 cases and came through it completely OK. I feel so much lighter now that I am vaccinated,” said Taal. “I did it to protect the people around me — my mom is a cancer survivor, I have nieces and nephews. I want them to be safe. The longer people wait to get vaccinated, the longer COVID will be with us.”

Dr. Benusic urged anyone who is still on the fence to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

“With the Delta variant, the risk of serious disease from COVID-19 is the highest it’s been. Fortunately, vaccines are very effective at decreasing this risk and as noted, severe reactions are rare,” he said.

“Unvaccinated adults make up only 10 per cent of the population in Island Health, but are experiencing the vast majority of COVID-19 hospitalizations, critical care admissions and deaths in critical care.”

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