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COVID-19 Vaccination Policy In Curry County Highlights Local Variations In Eligibility Rules

An unopened vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the Deschutes County Public Health Department in Bend, Ore., Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021.
Bradley W. Parks / OPB
An unopened vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the Deschutes County Public Health Department in Bend, Ore., Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021.

A senior in Brookings this week was not given a COVID-19 vaccine during her scheduled appointment because of a food allergy. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not list food allergies as a concern. The situation highlights the variation in vaccination protocols.

On Monday, March 1st, Charlis Meador arrived at Curry Medical Center in Brookings for her scheduled COVID vaccination appointment. At 75-years-old and a retired operating room nurse, Meador was within Oregon’s vaccination eligibility.

Meador filled out her paperwork, noting that she is allergic to a type of melon related to cantaloupe. But she was surprised and upset when nurses said she couldn’t get vaccinated that day.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Meador says. “This was March 1st. Since January 4th they [CDC] were saying that only people with severe reactions to vaccines couldn’t get it.”

Meador has been closely following guidance about the coronavirus vaccines and was aware that for several months the CDC has advised people with food allergies to proceed with vaccination. CDC guidance from December notes that individuals with food allergies, including with a history of anaphylactic reactions, should require a 30-minute observation period after getting the vaccine.

“CDC recommends that people get vaccinated even if they have a history of severe allergic reactions not related to vaccines or injectable medications—such as food, pet, venom, environmental, or latex allergies,” the guidance states.

“You don’t deny people a potentially life-saving treatment without a damn good reason,” Meador says.

CDC guidance says individuals should not be vaccinated if they have an allergy to an ingredient in the COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson.

“I think what you can say is we’re taking a more conservative approach than what the CDC and others have,” says Ginny Williams, the chief executive officer for Curry Health Network.

Williams says their hospital protocol requires patients with any type of allergy that results in anaphylactic reactions to consult with their provider before getting a vaccine. She noted the protocol is based on extreme caution and that consultation with a provider can be done in writing or over the phone.

“She [Meador] is not the only person that this has happened to and she is not the only person that we have required to get a consultation from their provider,” Williams says. “We’re not singling her out.”

While Williams says the hospital’s protocol was published on their vaccination registration website, it’s a reminder of possible variations in rules at hospitals during the pandemic vaccination efforts.

JPR reached out to the Oregon Health Authority with questions about state COVID-19 vaccine recommendations for local hospitals, but OHA did not immediately respond.

In the meantime, Meador rescheduled her appointment for next week. Williams says the situation will be evaluated so that medical staff can determine whether their protocol is too stringent.

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.