WASHINGTON: Most Covid-19 vaccine reactions – such as fainting, dizziness and nausea – were due to anxiety and not the shots themselves, says America’s main health monitoring agency, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The advisory is based on the data collected from five mass vaccination sites in the United States and was released on Friday afternoon.

The centres reported 64 anxiety-related events, including 17 events of fainting after receiving the single-doze Johnson & Johnson vaccine in early April. US health agencies called for a temporary pause on this vaccine after six people developed a rare blood clot disorder.

On April 23, the CDC and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lifted the pause after a thorough review of the reportedcases and allowed all health centers to resume using the vaccine.

But in its latest advisory, the CDC urged vaccine providers to “be aware of anxiety-related events after vaccination and observe all Covid-19 vaccine recipients for any adverse reactions for at least 15 minutes after vaccine administration.”

The majority — 61 percent — of those who experienced discomfort were women, with a median age of 36 years. And 20 percent of the patients told vaccination site staff they had a history of fainting associated with receiving injections or an aversion to needles.

Most of the symptoms resolved within 15 minutes with care, such as food and hydration or lying down, while 20 percent of patients were hospitalised for further evaluation. Four of the sites suspended vaccination to investigate the reactions.

“Increased awareness of anxiety-related events after vaccination will enable vaccination providers to make an informed decision about continuing vaccination,” the CDC report said. The report also noted that the anxiety attacks were not specific to Johnson & Johnson and “can occur after any vaccination.”

The study also found that Covid-19-related anxiety attacks were more prevalent than those associated with flu, about 8.2 episodes per 100,000 doses. During the 2019-2020 flu season in the US, health workers recorded only 0.05 episodes per 100,000 doses.

Reducing vaccine anxiety

While commenting on the CDC report, Dr. Jeffrey Geller, president of the American Psychiatric Association suggested practicing deep breathing and relaxation exercises when getting the shots.

“Once you’ve arrived at the location, especially a mass vaccination site, it may be helpful to distract yourself, such as listening to music while waiting in line,” he said in an interview to ABC News. “People also may want to let the medical team know if they’re anxious. You shouldn’t keep it to yourself,” he added.

FDA and CDC experts, who lifted the pause on J&J vaccine, noted that as many as 6.8 million doses had already been used before it was paused. Out of these 6.8 million, 15 recipients complained of blood clots and low platelets, also known as thrombosis-thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS).

They suggested providing extensive education to vaccine providers and clinicians to properly recognise and manage these events and arrange for the treatment required.

Published in Dawn, May 3rd, 2021

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