CDC Sets New Guidance on COVID-19 Vaccinations for People With Underlying Medical Issues

By Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan is a reporter based in New York covering the Justice Department, courts, and First Amendment.
December 27, 2020Updated: December 29, 2020

People with underlying medical conditions are able to receive the COVID-19 vaccination as long as they haven’t had a severe allergic reaction to any of the ingredients, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.

The CDC issued the new guidance on Dec. 26, aimed at helping adults with underlying health conditions or weakened immune systems to decide whether the newly released COVID-19 vaccine is appropriate for them.

“Adults of any age with certain underlying medical conditions are at increased risk for severe illness from the virus that causes COVID-19,” the guidance says.

The vaccines that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “may be administered to people with underlying medical conditions provided they have not had a severe allergic reaction to any of the ingredients in the vaccine,” it added.

The guidance states that people with weakened immune systems or autoimmune conditions may receive the COVID-19 vaccine but should be aware that little to no data is currently available on the safety of the vaccine for those individuals.

Meanwhile, the CDC also gave the green light for people who have previously had Guillain-Barre syndrome—an autoimmune condition that attacks a person’s peripheral nervous system—saying that no cases of the syndrome were reported following clinical trials of the vaccine.

People who previously had Bell’s Palsy—a condition that causes weakness in the muscles of one side of the face—can also receive the vaccine. The CDC said participants during the vaccine clinical trials did report having the condition, but the FDA determined that it didn’t exceed the rate expected in the general population.

According to the CDC, nearly 2 million people in the United States have had their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of Dec. 26.

Health officials have previously warned that people with some allergies shouldn’t get the newly approved vaccine.

“Our conditions for use, is what we call them, specifically states that, if you have an allergy to any component of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, you should not receive it,” Dr. Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

According to a fact sheet (pdf) from the FDA for health care providers, any person who has a known history of a severe allergic reaction, or anaphylaxis, to any ingredients of either of the newly approved vaccines should not take that vaccine.

The ingredients of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine (pdf) are listed as follows: messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA), lipids ((4-hydroxybutyl)azanediyl)bis(hexane-6,1-diyl)bis(2-hexyldecanoate), 2 [(polyethylene glycol)-2000]-N,N-ditetradecylacetamide, 1,2-Distearoyl-sn-glycero-3- phosphocholine, and cholesterol), potassium chloride, monobasic potassium phosphate, sodium chloride, dibasic sodium phosphate dihydrate, and sucrose.

The ingredients of the Moderna vaccine (pdf) are as follows: mRNA, lipids (SM-102, polyethylene glycol [PEG] 2000 dimyristoyl glycerol [DMG], cholesterol, and 1,2-distearoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine [DSPC]), tromethamine, tromethamine hydrochloride, acetic acid, sodium acetate, and sucrose.

Moncef Slaoui, chief scientific adviser for Operation Warp Speed, said earlier this month that the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration is “very, very carefully” looking into the adverse reactions. Initial speculation was that polyethylene glycol, a component of both vaccines, could be the culprit.

This week, a doctor from Boston was the first to report an adverse reaction to the Moderna vaccine. The doctor used his own personal EpiPen when he began to feel that he was developing an allergic reaction, and staffers rushed him to a nearby emergency room for evaluation and further treatment.

Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.