President-elect Joe Biden

President-elect Joe Biden receives a COVID-19 vaccination from Tabe Masa, Nurse Practitioner and Head of Employee Health Services, at the Christiana Care campus in Newark, Delaware on Dec 21. ALEX EDELMAN/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES/TNS

BY JOHN TOZZI

BLOOMBERG NEWS/TNS

The National Institutes of Health plans to begin a clinical trial that aims to help doctors “predict and manage” allergic reactions related to Pfizer Inc.’s COVID-19 vaccine.

Moncef Slaoui, chief scientific adviser to Operation Warp Speed, said during a Monday news briefing that the aim of the trial, which will also study the Moderna Inc. shot just authorized for emergency use, will be to pinpoint why the incidents, known as anaphylaxis, are occurring.

During the briefing, Slaoui also addressed a new variant of the virus seen in the U.K., saying it’s no more dangerous than other strains and that there is “no hard evidence” it is more transmissible. Getting the data to determine that, he said, will take weeks.

Worldwide concerns

The emergence of the allergic reactions, even in just a handful of cases, and questions surrounding the U.K. mutation have opened new concerns worldwide about the virus. France, Germany, Italy and other countries have already gone as far as blocking travel from the U.K. after the variant was identified.

“It’s clear, it’s not more pathogenic” than other strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, Slaoui said. He also said he expects the existing vaccines will likely still offer protection against it.

To date, he said, “there is no hard evidence that this virus is actually more transmissible.” The virus may have been “seeded” more widely in the southeast England area where it’s now being detected with greater frequency.

Ruled generally safe

The NIH study on reactions to the Pfizer vaccine will test the shots “in highly allergic individuals,” Slaoui said. Both the Pfizer and Moderna shots – which are based on similar messenger RNA technology – will be studied, he said.

Both vaccines authorized for emergency use in the U.S. have been ruled generally safe, and both were found to be better than 90% effective in late-stage trials.

Side effects noted have included headaches and fatigue, but they have ended within a couple of days.

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