Deborah Tilli

Deborah Tilli, 27, is one of the rare people to have had a severe reaction to the vaccine, and a week later she's still not fully recovered.
When Deborah Tilli got the call last week telling her she'd be one of the first long-term-care workers in Hamilton vaccinated for COVID-19, she felt a mix of emotions.

A part of her was nervous, a part excited.

But what happened in the minutes after Tilli rolled up her sleeve for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Christmas Eve has her cautioning those with allergies ahead of getting the jab.

"I thought I was doing the right thing," said Tilli, who is a personal support worker at Dundurn Place Care Centre, which is currently in outbreak with two cases in staff. "Especially for my residents at work."

Tilli, 27, is one of the rare people to have had a severe reaction to the vaccine — and a week later she's still not fully recovered.

Dr. Zainab Abdurrahman, a clinical immunologist and allergist, said severe reactions are "rare," but they do happen.

"Some can be allergic, some may not be allergic, but can still be a severe reaction," said Abdurrahman.

Last Thursday, Tilli was getting ready to be vaccinated. She said she filled out the consent forms, on which she listed her severe allergy to bee stings. A nurse asked about the allergy and whether or not she had an EpiPen, but nothing further was mentioned.

Soon after, Tilli said she was vaccinated in her right arm and was sent to a room down the hall, where people are asked to wait 15 minutes in case of a reaction.

"That's where I started to feel really not good," she said, speaking to The Spectator. Tilli said she began to feel light-headed. Then, she felt a scratch in her throat.

Brushing it off as nerves, Tilli tried to distract herself with her phone and "look at things in a more positive way." Unable to ignore her symptoms any longer, Tilli approached a paramedic and explained how she was feeling.

Tilli said the paramedic took her vitals and gave her a Benadryl — and insisted that she stay put.

"If it wasn't for that one paramedic, I probably wouldn't have been here today or something might have happened — because I wanted to leave, I didn't want to get checked out ... I didn't want there to be a big scene regarding this," said Tilli.

After taking the Benadryl, Tilli said she felt better momentarily but within minutes her symptoms came back stronger. The paramedics gave her an EpiPen and that's when things "started to go downhill."

The feeling Tilli felt next is something she still can't explain. But, it caused her to lean to the right and pass out in the chair.

Tilli said once she was fully awake, the doctors told her she had suffered seizures and for a "brief moment," she needed CPR.

Comment: So she died... momentarily.

Still feeling some brain fog, Tilli said she doesn't remember much of the reaction but can recollect the moments where she accepted what was happening and that there could be "consequences."

"I kind of just lost hope for that period of time," she said.

When reached by The Spectator, Hamilton public health declined to comment "on an individual's personal health" or a "specific individual's reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine."

Abdurrahman said any time someone has an adverse reaction to a vaccine — even ones that are given regularly — once reported, public health follows up with them and does a thorough investigation.

"This is unlikely to be related to her prior allergy," she said, adding that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine does not contain any components of bee venom.

Abdurrahman said if someone is not allergic to a component, having a previous allergy "doesn't increase your risks" of having a reaction to the vaccine.

"But, it can still happen," she said, noting they can range from the expected — feeling under the weather, soreness in the vaccination site — to the unexpected, such as a severe reaction and even anaphylaxis.

"They aren't all predictable," said Abdurrahman.

Tilli said despite her reaction, she's not discouraging people from getting the vaccine — but she thinks anyone that has severe allergies should do their research ahead of time.

As of Wednesday, Tilli had not returned to work yet and was still suffering from severe headaches. She's taking her recovery "day by day."

"I've seen first-hand how the lockdown and the virus is affecting our residents ... it's heartbreaking," said Tilli. "I was excited to get the vaccine because I thought I was doing the right thing. If you're able to get the vaccine, get it ... it will help stop the spread of this virus."