Tracking a COVID Vax Rumor

I heard a strange rumor this weekend about anti-vaxxers in Halifax paying a guy — the same guy, in the story I heard — to get vaccinated for them and provide them with proof of vaccination.

My first thought was that this had “urban myth” written all over it (the vaccine guy in the version I heard had received eight doses) but then I remembered that to get vaccinated, I had only to present my Nova Scotia health card, which doesn’t feature my photo, and suddenly it seemed like something worth checking out.

I emailed the government’s COVID media request inbox and asked if Public Health had heard any such rumors and if they had any concerns about the possibility that people were paying vaccine stand-ins.

Spokesperson Marla MacInnis told me by email:

We are aware of similar rumours, have investigated them and are not able to validate them. We are now asking vaccine providers to check photo IDs at appointments.

So I can’t say the rumor is true — but I can’t say it’s false, either. And Public Health is taking it seriously enough to change its vaccine ID requirements.


Side effects

I then wondered what would happen to someone who’d had multiple — like, eight — doses of COVID vaccine and the closest I could come to an answer was this February story from an Australian nursing home where two elderly residents (88 and 94) were accidentally given up to four times the recommended dosage by a doctor who confused the Pfizer vial — which contains 5 doses (6 with a special low-waste syringe) — with a single-dose vial.

The seniors were closely monitored afterward and showed no side effects.

The article, from the Australian Broadcast Corporation (ABC), noted that excessive Pfizer dosing has been documented elsewhere, including Germany and Israel, but the worst side effects reported were fever and flu-like symptoms — most people experienced no side effects at all. The Pfizer vaccine has to be diluted before it is delivered and, according to this January report from the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, dilution errors sometimes led to dosing errors. (All of the dosing error incidents I read about dated to the early days of the vaccine roll-out and none resulted in serious side effects.)

Jim Buttery, an infectious disease physician and vaccinologist, told ABC the main risk from a too-large dosage is:

…a higher chance of localized reactions like tenderness and swelling and what experts call “systemic reactions” such as muscle aches and pains.

He said an excessive dose would not be life-threatening and would not lead to the patient developing COVID-19, because the inoculation does not contain live coronavirus.

“[Also] with the COVID vaccine the risk of adverse events is lower in the elderly than young people because the immune system of older people doesn’t react as strongly,” he said.

The recommended dosage for the Pfizer vaccine is two 30mcg doses to be taken 21 days apart, but as ABC noted in a companion piece, during the vaccine’s trials, people were given doses of up to 100mcg without serious side effects.

The seniors in the Australian long-term care home were given up to 120mcg each but Paul Griffin, a professor of medicine at the University of Queensland, told ABC that while it was “hard to say” how much of the Pfizer vaccine a person would have to be given to experience serious side effects, it would have to be “significantly higher” than 120 mcg.

Eight shots of Pfizer would be 240mcg which strikes me as “significantly” higher than 120mcg but I am not a professor of medicine, so will not venture an opinion other than to say that I hope vaccine guy wasn’t real.


Proof positive

To end on a more concrete note, a brief public service announcement: if you need to print your proof of vaccination (which you will need, as of October 4, for an extensive list of venues and activities) and don’t have access to a printer, you can do it at any branch of the Cape Breton Regional Library:

CBRL will print your proof of vaccination