A recent report issued by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regarding the safety and efficacy of the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19 has been raising eyebrows: two recipients of the vaccine, all of whom had cosmetic facial fillers to help supplement a loss of volume in the face, experienced an adverse reaction.
In those vaccine recipients, localized swelling occurred at the filler injection site. The revelation of this reaction led to a flurry of headlines (and panic amongst my friends); however, board-certified plastic surgeon, Robert Morin, MD, offers assurance that there is no cause for alarm. In fact, he says, you should still plan to get the vaccine if you are among the approximately 2.7 million Americans with cosmetic fillers.
Dr. Morin offers several reasons for this recommendation. For starters, he says, this phenomenon is not new or unique to the COVID-19 vaccine. “It’s actually what’s called a delayed hypersensitivity reaction,” he explains. “If the body’s immune system gets stimulated for any reason—and the COVID vaccine would be one reason why the body’s immune system would get stimulated—it can start reacting with things in the body that it normally wouldn’t react with. In this case, that thing is filler.” When this occurs, the immune system is identifying filler as being foreign to the body and is issuing an inflammatory response as a result.
This can happen in any number of scenarios outside of the COVID-19 vaccine, Dr. Morin says. “We’ve seen it before with the flu vaccine, and we’ve seen it before if a patient has a sinus infection—they can get swelling in areas where they’ve had filler injected,” he explains.
With that said, this side effect is extremely rare. Dr. Morin tells me that in fifteen years of practice, he’s seen it just once. And the Moderna trial wherein it occurred in only a couple of vaccine recipients was conducted on 30,000 vaccine recipients (of course, not all of those recipients had facial filler).
Obviously, these statistics offer no guarantee this reaction won’t happen to you, but Dr. Morin stresses that it’s typically mild and also easily treatable. “It’s likely to resolve on its own, but I think most people want to treat it so they use something like Benadryl, or if they want to be a bit more aggressive they would use steroids,” he says. The reaction is also localized, meaning it only occurs at the cosmetic filler injection site.
If you’re still worried, Dr. Morin says you could postpone your cosmetic injections, though he says no one really knows how close to the vaccine your fillers need to be in order to cause a reaction. Still, he adds that no professionals at this time are recommending abstaining from either your aesthetic work or, more importantly, the vaccine. “The general recommendation from the plastic surgery societies is that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks,” he says. “Remember, there are four keys: number one, it’s rare; number two, it’s localized; number three, it’s not new or unique to the COVID vaccine; and number four, it’s treatable.”
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