What to know about the CDC’s new COVID vaccine guidance for people with health conditions

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The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released new guidance on Saturday on the COVID-19 vaccination process for people with underlying health conditions. The new guidelines follow reports of some health care workers and COVID vaccine recipients experiencing side effects.

In releasing this information, the CDC seeks to assuage the concerns of people with underlying medical conditions, including rare disorders and inflammatory diseases. And, as is also still the case with how the vaccine will affect broader demographics, there is still some real-world evidence left to parse.

COVID vaccines from Pfizer and partner BioNTech and competitor Moderna were developed in record time this year. But with that developmental urgency came an inevitable tradeoff: Clinical trials still need to encompass more people who may be at high-risk of contracting COVID-19 in order for the scientific community to understand how the vaccine may affect various demographics.

The CDC cites clinical research showing that the COVID vaccine should be safe for the vast majority of people. But certain groups will require more vigilant monitoring.

“People with HIV and those with weakened immune systems due to other illnesses or medication might be at increased risk for severe COVID-19. They may receive a COVID-19 vaccine,” writes the CDC in its new guidance. “However, they should be aware of the limited safety data. People living with HIV were included in clinical trials, though safety data specific to this group are not yet available at this time.”

There’s also not a whole lot of hard data on the vaccine’s effect on people with autoimmune conditions, although the CDC says these people can still receive an mRNA vaccine along the lines of Pfizer’s or Moderna’s. Americans who have had rare disorders such as Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) or Bell’s palsy also may receive the vaccine, with side effects expected at no higher level than the general population.

Any immunization campaign is an experiment, usually with disparate results that pour in minute by minute. For instance, some patients who have already received vaccine doses have experienced adverse events such as fatigue and muscle aches.

The available clinical trial data suggest that side effects vary wildly by age and other factors, such as a history of serious allergies, and they tend to hover between mild and moderate symptoms.

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