A volunteer is injected with a vaccine while participating in a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination study at the Research Centers of America in Hollywood, Florida on September 24, 2020.
Marco Bello | Reuters
Public health officials and drug manufacturers need to be transparent about the side effects people can have after the first shot of a coronavirus vaccine. Doctors urged this during a meeting with CDC advisors on Monday as states prepare to hand out doses as early as next month.
Dr. Sandra Fryhofer of the American Medical Association noted that both Pfizer and Moderna's Covid-19 vaccines require two doses at different intervals. As a practicing health care professional, she said she was concerned that her patients would come back for a second dose because of the potentially nasty side effects they could have after the first shot.
"We really need to make patients aware that this is not going to be a walk in the park," Fryhofer said during a virtual meeting with the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, an external group of medical experts advising the CDC. She is also a liaison with the committee. "You will know you had a vaccine. You probably won't feel wonderful. But you have to come back for that second dose."
Participants in Moderna and Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine studies told CNBC in September that they had a high fever, body aches, severe headaches, days of exhaustion and other symptoms after receiving the shots. While symptoms were uncomfortable and sometimes intense, participants said that they often went away after a day, sometimes sooner, and that it was better than getting Covid-19.
Both companies recognized that their vaccines can produce side effects similar to symptoms associated with mild Covid-19, such as muscle pain, chills, and headaches.
A North Carolina woman in the Moderna study, who is over 50, said she had no fever but had a bad migraine that drained her for a day and made her unable to concentrate. She said she woke up the next day and felt better after taking Excedrin, but added that Moderna may need to tell people to take a day off after a second dose.
"If this turns out to work, people have to get tougher," she said. "The first dose isn't a big deal. And then the second dose will definitely put you off for the day … you have to take a day off after the second dose."
During the meeting on Monday, Patsy Stinchfield, a Minnesota children's nurse, said officials and drug manufacturers could try to be more positive about the side effects. She said they could use language like "answer" instead of "side effect".
"These are immune responses," said Stinchfield, a former voting member of the committee. "And if you feel anything after vaccination, expect it. If you do, it's normal to have arm pain or fatigue, some body ache, and maybe even a fever. It might sound like some of these studies even from have to stay home from work. "
"You hear some people in the studies that are disappointed that they haven't had any of these things and that they feel like they were given a placebo," she added.
The committee meeting takes place three days after Pfizer and its partner BioNTech apply to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency approval for their coronavirus vaccine.
The FDA process is expected to take a few weeks, and an advisory committee meeting to review the vaccine is planned for early December. Some Americans might get their first dose of vaccine in about a month.
Once the FDA approves a vaccine, ACIP is expected to hold an emergency meeting to make specific recommendations for distribution.
Federal agencies are already sending vaccination schedules to employees. Five agencies have told their employees they could get Pfizer or Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine in just eight weeks, a person who knows these plans firsthand told CNBC on Friday.