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Physician Resource

COVID-19: UVA Health Offering Vaccination Safety Measures for Allergy-Prone Patients

COVID-19 vaccination rates in Virginia are hovering around 57.4% as of early September. While some hesitancy to get the shot is being driven by misinformation or distrust, there are also allergy-prone patients who are fearful of having a reaction to the vaccines.

In an effort to provide these patients peace of mind and move them off of the unvaccinated list, UVA Health has established two clinics to serve them. One is a high-risk clinic within the UVA Health community vaccination clinic now located at the UVA Education Resource Center. On Friday afternoons from 1-3 p.m., patients who have underlying allergic disorders and might be at higher risk for vaccine-adverse reactions can get vaccinated under close observation by a UVA allergist. “Our team is there for counseling, observation and treatment of any adverse events should they occur,” says Michael Nelson, MD, Chief of the UVA Asthma, Allergy and Immunology Division.

The community vaccination clinic has traditionally administered the two mRNA vaccines based on availability. However, should a patient have a request or need for a specific type of vaccine, all three — Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines — can be ordered through the UVA Pharmacy.

Assessing Risk Prior to Vaccination

For patients who have had an adverse reaction to one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine or who have concerns about a potential allergic reaction, UVA allergists are offering pre-vaccine evaluation at the Northridge Allergy Clinic each Thursday. “We are testing patients for an allergic response to polyethylene glycol (PEG), which is found in mRNA vaccines,” says allergist Anna Smith, MD. “One suspicion is that people who are having adverse reactions to the vaccines are allergic to PEG. This is one modality of testing we’re doing to help us with risk stratification. Having this information may help patients make the decision whether to proceed with vaccination from an allergy standpoint.”

“Most patients seen for pre-vaccine evaluation will not require testing,” adds Dr. Nelson. Testing is reserved for high-risk patients, including those with prior reactions to PEG, multiple injectable medications or past reactions to a COVID-19 vaccine.

“We are happy to help in any way we can to answer patients’ allergy-specific questions related to the vaccine and address vaccine hesitation,” says Smith.

Now Enrolling: COVID-19 Vaccine Allergy Study

UVA Health is one of 29 sites across the U.S. participating in an NIH-funded research study of COVID-19 vaccine allergic reactions. Candidates for the study include people 12 years of age and older with a history of serious allergic reactions or a mast cell disorder. The study will also include those without a history of severe allergies. The Systemic Allergic Reactions to SARS CoV-2 Vaccination clinical trial (NCT04761822) is sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health.

The purpose of the SARS Vaccination study is to investigate:

  • If people with a history of serious allergic reactions or those with mast cell disorders are more at risk of having a reaction after receiving either the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine or the Moderna vaccine
  • What factors may promote allergic reactions to either vaccine

All participants in this study will receive either the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccine; however, some participants will receive placebo first. Participants will receive $100 per study visit (2-4 visits total) as compensation for their time.  

If you or your patients are interested in learning more about this study, contact Research Coordinator Deb Murphy at 434.982.3712 or

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