Decline the 15 Minute Post-Vaccination Waiting Period

In very rare cases, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will cause the person being vaccinated to have an allergic reaction. When I say very rare, I mean it; the chances are a few in a million, or about the same of picking a specific resident of Newark, New Jersey at random out of the phone book.

Because of this chance, the pharmacy/hospital/vaccination site will ask you to wait around for 15 minutes after getting the shot so they can check whether you have an allergic reaction. Most places (scroll through the list on Vaccinate CA) administering the shot are doing so indoors in windowless rooms. People - right now, seniors and others with high exposure to COVID - are being asked to wait for 15 minutes in crowded waiting rooms.

However - waiting in a cramped room indoors is exactly how COVID spreads! Sure, most people are probably wearing masks. But the new B.117 variant is more dangerous and, anecdotally, can get past a cloth mask much more easily. Right after getting the vaccine, but before it has kicked in, we are asking people to huddle in basically the ideal location for transmitting COVID, all to avoid a miniscule risk of an allergic reaction. Not only is this extremely dangerous but it's a huge waste of vaccine - if we know you are going to get COVID today, we shouldn't give you protection against COVID starting a week from now.

The risk of not spotting someone who has an allergic reaction must be weighed against the risk of transmitting COVID. Right now about 3% of the US population is infected with COVID. So about 1 in every 30 people in a vaccination waiting room (likely higher due to selection effects) will be infected with COVID and transmit it to others. About 1-2% of people who get COVID will die from it and more will be hospitalized. Contrast this with about a 1 in ~180,000 risk of an allergic reaction. It's just not comparable.

If you are offered the vaccine, and the waiting area is indoors, I would urge you to decline to wait. Explain that waiting indoors with other unvaccinated1 people is not safe, and then wait outside. You can call someone on the phone for 15 minutes who can monitor you for side effects. Or, walk back in after 15 minutes, tell the pharmacist you are OK, and then leave.

You are not breaking the law by doing this and you are aware of the risks. The more people that choose to do this, the more pressure we can put on vaccinators and public health agencies to end this dangerous practice, and offer waiting areas that are well spaced outdoors.

So many people are dying every day and a vaccine is so close now that small changes will have a huge impact on the total number of people hospitalized and dead. Please share this post with someone you know who is getting vaccinated soon.

Thanks to Michael Story for bringing this issue up.

1. The vaccine takes a week to kick in so for all intents and purposes you are still unvaccinated minutes after you have received the shot.

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