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11 severe reactions, 0 deaths from COVID vaccines reported to Louisiana health officials

A vaccinator draws a shot of a COVID-19 vaccine.
A vaccinator draws a shot of a COVID-19 vaccine.

There have been 11 severe reactions related to the COVID-19 vaccine in Louisiana and no deaths, state health officials told lawmakers on Monday.

Those 11 cases, deemed severe because they required hospitalization, were confirmed after the state investigated 122 reports of illness potentially linked to vaccination, state epidemiologist Theresa Sokol said during a hearing of the House Health and Welfare Committee into the mechanisms for reporting vaccine side effects.

Sokol also said the state has found 270 cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), where different body parts can become inflamed, including the heart, lungs or kidneys, related to COVID-19 infections. The state has confirmed three cases of myocarditis related to COVID-19 vaccinations.

“We absolutely see more myocarditis related to infection than potentially related to the vaccine,” she said.

The hearing, however, quickly became a forum for misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccinations, after State Rep. Michael Echols, a Republican from Monroe, raised questions about the vaccine’s safety among pregnant people by asking whether the health department was tracking adverse events among pregnant women in particular, including the outcome of the pregnancy.

“I know there's been concern about vaccines, and then the ability to potentially maintain a pregnancy,” he said.

Sokol said the health department tracks all reports of adverse reactions for all groups of people and does an extensive review of medical records.

“If we were to see any sort of adverse event in a pregnant woman, that would certainly be something that's flagged,” she said.

There is agreement among the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine over the vaccine’s safety for pregnant people based on accumulating research, and both organizations recommend pregnant women get vaccinated. Studies have also found that pregnancy is a risk factor for severe illness or death from COVID-19. Being pregnant makes you 70% more likely to die if infected with COVID-19.

Lawmakers then heard testimony from a group of nurses at Louisiana hospitals and members of Health Freedom Louisiana who alleged that adverse reactions are being underreported to the health department. Health Freedoms Louisiana worked on a series of anti-vaccine bills during the previous legislative session and repeated misinformation about the vaccines in previous hearings.

The health department has issued five alerts in the last 11 months urging all providers and health care institutions to report any adverse effects of the vaccines. The health department’s toll-free number (1-800-256-2748) has been in use for 20 years, Sokol said, and anyone can use it.

During a briefing on the expansion for COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 5 to 11 last week, Dr. Joseph Kanter, the state health officer, outlined four other mechanisms for monitoring vaccines, in addition to the state’s toll-free number.

V-Safe is an app introduced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that anyone can download to report symptoms after a COVID-19 vaccine.

The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) collects any reports of side effects or adverse reactions to vaccines, from any person, without investigating the validity of that information or its connection to a vaccination. It’s mandatory for health care providers to report side effects to VAERS. Designed to be an early warning system for rare symptoms, VAERS is also ripe for misuse because none of the data within it is verified.

The Vaccine Safety Datalink is a network of nine health care institutions that work with the CDC to monitor vaccine safety, and the CDC also runs the Clinical Immunization Safety Assessment Project, which conducts research, reviews cases and helps evaluate vaccine safety.

To watch the full hearing from Monday, click here.
Copyright 2021 WWNO - New Orleans Public Radio. To see more, visit WWNO - New Orleans Public Radio.

Rosemary Westwood is the public reporter for WWNO/WRKF. She was previously a freelance writer specializing in gender and reproductive rights, a radio producer, columnist, magazine writer and podcast host.