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Anxiety caused COVID-19 vaccine reactions in 5 U.S. states, health officials say – CBC.ca

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Anxiety — not a problem with the shots — that caused reactions in dozens of people at coronavirus vaccine clinics in five states, U.S. health officials have concluded.

Experts say the clusters detailed Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are an example of a phenomenon that’s been chronicled for decades about a variety of different vaccines. Basically, some people get so freaked out by injections that their anxiety spurs a physical reaction.

“We knew we were going to see this” as mass COVID-19 vaccine clinics were set up around the world, said Dr. Noni MacDonald, a Canadian researcher who has studied similar incidents.

The CDC authors said the reports came in from  April 7 to 9 and involved clinics in California, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa and North Carolina. The investigation was based on interviews with, and reports by, clinic staff.

Many of the 64 people affected either fainted or reported dizziness. Some got nauseous or vomited, and a few had racing hearts, chest pain or other symptoms. None got seriously ill.

All received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Four of the the five clinics temporarily shut down as officials tried to sort out what was happening. Health officials at the time said they had no reason to suspect a problem with the vaccine itself.

1-dose vaccine

Of the three COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the U.S., only J&J’s can be administered in just one dose. That probably makes it more appealing to people who are nervous about shots and might leave them “more highly predisposed to anxiety-related events,” the CDC report said.

Some of the sites advertised they were giving J&J shots, noted Dr. Tom Shimabukuro, who leads the CDC’s COVID-19 vaccine safety monitoring work and is one of the study’s authors.

The CDC found that about a quarter of the people reporting side-effects had similar things happen following past vaccinations.

WATCH | Specialist on why Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine is ‘fantastic’:

The Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 shot is a ‘fantastic’ vaccine with benefits that outweigh the risks, says Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist in Toronto. 2:39

The post-shot reactions differ from a very rare kind of side-effect that led to a pause in administration of the J&J vaccine. At least 17 vaccine recipients have developed an uncommon kind of blood clot that developed in unusual places, such as veins that drain blood from the brain, along with abnormally low levels of the platelets that form clots.

Other types of side-effects from the coronavirus vaccines are not unusual. Another CDC report released Friday looked at side-effects reported by more than 300,000 J&J vaccine recipients. More than half said they experienced a sore arm, fatigue or headache. A third reported fever or chills, and about a fifth said they were nauseous.

But the clusters at the five clinics are believed to be stress-related.

Chain reaction

MacDonald, a professor of pediatrics at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, said studies have indicated that 10 per cent to 15 per cent of adults are afraid of injections.

Many people who experience stress-related symptoms are younger, and past clusters from other shots have involved school students. Some hyperventilate, some experience nausea, some reported headaches. And some had what at first appears to be more severe, neurological symptoms, she said.

One cluster that MacDonald reviewed involved 14 U.S. military reservists who developed symptoms after getting flu shots in 2009. The first was a 23-year-old man who one day later reported progressive weakness in his arms and legs but fully recovered.

“Everybody thinks this is [only] young teenage girls” who experience this, MacDonald said. “Well, it isn’t.”

It can start with one person fainting that can set off a chain reaction of symptoms in anxious people who see or hear about that first person. These days, people also react to things they read or watch in Facebook posts or on other sites.

Some doctors have referred to the phenomenon as a form of mass hysteria, but MacDonald rejected the term.

“These people are not crazy,” but rather are experiencing real physical responses to psychological stress, she said.

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Factbox: Countries respond to heart inflammation risk from mRNA shots

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Some countries have halted altogether or are giving only one dose of COVID shots based on so-called mRNA technology to teens following reports of possible rare cardiovascular side effects.

Europe’s drug regulator said in July it had found a possible link between a very rare inflammatory heart condition and COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna.

However, the benefits of mRNA shots in preventing COVID-19 continue to outweigh the risks, European and U.S. regulators and the World Health Organization have said.

Here are some of the steps some countries are taking:

CANADA

The Public Health Agency of Canada said data suggested that reported cases of rare heart inflammation were higher after Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine compared with the Pfizer/BioNTech shots.

DENMARK

The Danish Health Agency said on Friday that it was continuing to offer Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine to under-18s, and that a statement on Wednesday suggesting a suspension had in fact been a miscommunication.

FINLAND

Finland paused the use of Moderna’s vaccines for younger people and instead would give Pfizer’s vaccine to men born in 1991 and later. It offers shots to those aged 12 and over.

HONG KONG

A panel of health experts advising the Hong Kong government has recommended in September children aged 12-17 should get only one dose of BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine after reports of heart inflammation as a side effect.

NORWAY

Norway will hold off giving children aged 12-15 a second dose of a vaccine against COVID-19 until it has gathered more research. On Oct. 22 the health ministry said there was no urgency given that children have a low risk of falling seriously ill from COVID-19.

On Sep. 2 Norway decided on giving one dose of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to children aged 12-15.

SWEDEN

Sweden has extended the pause of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine beyond the original Dec. 1 deadline for people aged 30 and younger due to rare heart-related side-effects, the public health agency said on Oct. 21.

The agency said earlier in October that data pointed to an increase of myocarditis and pericarditis among youths and young adults vaccinated with Moderna vaccine Spikevax, and paused the use for all born 1991 or later.

SOUTH AFRICA

South Africa will start vaccinating children between 12 and 17 using the Pfizer vaccine, the health minister said, as the country looks to ratchet up inoculations ahead of final year examinations.

On the advice of its vaccine advisory committee the government would only give teenagers a single shot of Pfizer’s normal two-shot regime due to concerns that it may affect the heart.

UNITED KINGDOM

Britain has been offering all 12-15-year-olds a first a shot of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. Second doses would not be offered to the age group until at least spring when there may be more data from around the world.

 

(Compiled by Antonis Triantafyllou; Editing by Joanna Jonczyk-Gwizdala and Tomasz Janowski)

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Hong Kong’s zero-COVID policy undermining financial hub status – industry group

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A financial industry group warned on Monday that Hong Kong‘s zero-COVID policy and strict quarantine requirements for international travellers threatens to undermine the city’s status as a financial hub.

The Asia Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (ASIFMA) said a survey of members, including some of the world’s largest banks and asset managers, showed 48% were contemplating moving staff or functions away from Hong Kong due to operational challenges, which included uncertainty regarding when and how travel and quarantine restrictions will be lifted.

Hong Kong has some of the most stringent travel restrictions in the world and is virtually COVID-19 free, however unlike regional rival Singapore, which is slowly re-opening its borders, the Chinese-ruled city has no public plan for opening up to international travellers.

Local leaders say their focus is removing restrictions on travel from Hong Kong to mainland China, which also has strict entry restrictions. At present travellers from Hong Kong to the mainland must still undergo quarantine.

“Hong Kong’s status as an (international financial centre) is increasingly at risk along with its long-term economic recovery and competitiveness as a premier place to do business,” Mark Austen chief executive of Asifma wrote in open letter to Hong Kong’s financial secretary Paul Chan.

The letter made a series of recommendations including publishing “a roadmap for exiting Hong Kong’s ‘zero-case’ based COVID-19 strategy beyond solely the immediate goal of opening borders with China”, as well as prioritising vaccinations.

Hong Kong has reported just over 12,300 cases since the start of the pandemic, mostly imported, and 213 deaths.

Regional rival Singapore is expanding quarantine-free travel to nearly a dozen countries, but authorities are grappling with how to do so while averting a surge of Covid-19 cases among older people and those with weak immune systems.

 

(Reporting by Alun John; Editing by Michael Perry)

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Red Cross urges action for Papua New Guinea as COVID-19 overwhelms health system

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Concerted international action is needed to support Papua New Guinea as a surge in COVID-19 cases overwhelms the Pacific country’s health system, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said on Monday.

Coronavirus cases in the island nation of 9 million have been surging in recent weeks, with 385 new cases recorded on Thursday, according to latest available government data.

There have been 26,731 officially confirmed cases and 329 deaths in the country 150 km (90 miles) north of Australia.

Less than 1% of the population has been fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data figures, although the government anticipated months ago that it would have enough shots by now for everyone who wanted to be vaccinated.

Misinformation, public apprehension, and logistical challenges with the rollout have slowed down vaccinations, the Red Cross said.

“Urgent efforts and further support are needed in healthcare to prevent a massive loss of life in the coming days and weeks,” Uvenama Rova, PNG Red Cross secretary general, said in a statement.

According to the PNG National Control Centre for COVID-19, all major hospitals have been hit with rising cases.

“We’re at the moment barely managing with the existing load,” Gary Nou, team leader for Emergency Medical Team at the National Centre, was quoted as saying last week in a statement on the centre’s website.

A medical team from Australia arrived in Port Moresby this month, and Britain was also to send a team.

While some other nations in the Pacific region, such as the Solomon Islands and Kiribati, have also had sluggish vaccine rollouts, the tiny nation of Palau had 99% of its population over 12 vaccinated by mid-October, while Fiji had 96% of eligible people with one dose, the Red Cross said this month.

 

(Reporting by Lidia Kelly in Melbourne; Editing by William Mallard)

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