Hospital pauses Pfizer COVID vaccine

A US hospital temporarily halted the rollout of a COVID-19 vaccine after four staff members experienced unexpected side effects.

The Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Illinois, put a stop to issuing the Pfizer jab after four employees experienced reactions, including one who had a severe allergic reaction but has now recovered.

The handful of reports about side-effects came as more than 250,000 people received the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine around the US on Saturday morning.

The hospital said it had resumed vaccines after a thorough investigation.

"So the immediate concern was, is there something wrong with that batch of vaccines, but after discussion with our health departments and also understanding that that same lot of vaccine was used at multiple other sites, both within and outside of advocate Aurora Health, and no other serious concerns reported," Dr Robert Citronberg, Executive Medical Director of Infectious Disease and Prevention, said.

He said he felt there are no concerns about the "integrity of the vaccine".

The Lake County Health Department issued a statement saying: "As COVID-19 vaccinations roll out across Lake County, we continue to closely monitor their safety and efficacy."

The Center for Disease Control website notes that some side-effects are expected from the Pfizer vaccine.

Pfizer/BioNTech Vaccine Distributed To GP Practices
Pfizer/BioNTech Vaccine Distributed To GP Practices

"These side effects usually start within a day or two of getting the vaccine," the website reads. "They might feel like flu symptoms and might even affect your ability to do daily activities, but they should go away in a few days."

The news comes as the first of millions of doses of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine were being prepared on Saturday for shipping to locations across the United States.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced late on Friday that it had granted emergency approval for the vaccine, a week after it did the same with the vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech.

"Distribution of the Moderna vaccine has already begun," said General Gus Perna, who is overseeing the massive logistical operation as part of the government's Operation Warp Speed.

On Saturday, the first doses were being moved from the manufacturing centre in Bloomington, Indiana, to warehouses operated by logistics firm McKesson in preparation for shipping on Sunday.

"Boxes are being packed and loaded today. Trucks will begin rolling out tomorrow from FedEx and UPS," the general said at a press briefing.

Pfizer's vaccine must be stored at -70C, a temperature much lower than standard freezers which has forced the company to develop special containers for transport.

But the Moderna vaccine can be stored at -20C. General Perna said the less stringent conditions allow "jurisdictions the flexibility to support hard to reach small and more rural areas," though he added that was up to state authorities.

Since the FDA granted Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine emergency authorisation one week ago, some 2.9 million doses have been delivered in the US, according to General Perna.

He said the government still expects to have delivered 20 million doses of the vaccine by the end of the year, although that figure may only be reached in the first week of January.