Since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given its full approval to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, companies, universities, and other organizations can now mandate COVID immunization. A medical exemption from getting the vaccine can be requested, however, the exclusions are few.
It is up to individual companies and institutions to determine what they will accept as a legitimate medical exemption based on recommendations by the FDA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and leading medical authorities.
“People will seek an exemption for all sorts of reasons but there are not many valid ones,” according to Dr. John Grabenstein, director of Scientific Communications for the Immunization Action Coalition. Medical exceptions are usually based on “Contraindications”.
The only known contraindication of the Pfizer vaccine is a “known history of a severe allergic reaction to any component” of the drug. The rate of anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction, occurred in about 2 to 5 cases per million doses, said Dr Niraj Patel, chair of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology’s COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force.
“Putting this into perspective, you’re as likely to get struck by lightning as you are to have an allergic reaction to a COVID-19 vaccine,” he said.
Amanda Cohn, of the CDC’s planning unit, said the Pfizer vaccine contains a component called polyethylene glycol that has been linked to the rare reaction.
The same component is found in the Moderna vaccine, but not in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Therefore it is possible that someone who is allergic to that component of the vaccine could safely get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Patel said. He also suggested individuals should consult with their allergist.
Based on the data we have on the vaccines and their safety potential, there are very few reasons for a legitimate medical exemption, according to Grabenstein.
“We’ve gone past the 200 millionth person to have gotten COVID vaccination just in the United States alone.” Grabenstein said. “So now we have extensive safety experience with these vaccines.”