VACCINE TEAM: Rare facial swelling in patients with cosmetic fillers is preventable, Charlotte doctor says after discovery

Doctor: You don’t have to choose between the vaccine and vanity
Updated: Mar. 2, 2021 at 6:09 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - There is a potential but rare side effect of the Moderna vaccine for people who have cosmetic fillers. They are also known as dermal fillers, injectable solutions administered by doctors to increase volume in a patient’s face. But concern has circulated online about the rare, but disturbing reactions in patients who get the Moderna COVID vaccine.

The potential reaction, according to Charlotte dermatologist Dr. Gilly Munavalli, is not something that should prevent patients with cosmetic fillers from getting the vaccine. After months of research, he says he’s found a simple way to prevent the swelling. On Wednesday, March 3, The American Society of Dermatology will publish his research and findings.

This rare reaction has since been reported in all of the COVID vaccines approved for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration. But Dr. Munavalli’s research started with the first information from Moderna’s clinical trials.

“So the CDC came out with guidelines in January, and they say that filler history, filler injection should not keep you from getting the vaccine. I totally agree. What’s important is to contact your physician. If you think you have a reaction, go in and let them help you. And so this, this option I think, would definitely help without the use of steroids,” Dr. Munavalli told the WBTV Vaccine Team.

The “option” Dr. Munavalli is referring to is one he’s been working on since Moderna first released the findings of its clinical trials. Moderna reported three patients out of more than 15,000, had swelling on their face after getting their shot. The patients had one thing in common, dermal filler injections.

Dr. Munavalli, who also has a degree in immunology from Johns Hopkins University, made it his mission to find a way to try and prevent the swelling altogether.

“The typical way to treat it, (the swelling), is by dissolving the filler, which is very valid and when we can do it very safely. Also by using steroids like prednisone to suppress the immune system. The problem with that, (steroids), is we don’t want to suppress the immune system with a vaccine. So in looking at the papers and literature and looking at the potential pathways in the skin, we came up with a very commonly used drug for hypertension, and high blood pressure that can suppress the reaction and it’s proven successful,” he said.

Over 1,600 miles from Charlotte, in Rapid City South Dakota, Dr. Siri Knutsen-Larson, a dermatologist with cosmetic fillers, got the Moderna vaccine.

“I went to bed that night and then I woke up extremely swollen the next morning. I was pretty shocked, but I did know that it was a reported side effect in the Maderna trial,” Dr. Knutsen-Larson told me via Zoom.

“My husband’s actually a physician and he almost dropped his coffee cup when he came out into the kitchen and saw me in the morning and my nurses had very similar reactions,” Knutsen-Larson said of people’s shock.

“I figured it was obviously caused by the vaccine. And so I reached out to my esteem, colleagues, dermatologists on social media, and I was able to get into contact with Dr. Munavalli, which was fantastic. He proposed a theory that he had not yet tried in any patients. And I was very willing to go along with this theory to see if it was effective. ,” Dr. Knutsen-Larson told me.

Dr. Munavalli suggested the doctor use an ace inhibitor to bring down the swelling. His research paper on this solution was circulating among dermatologists around the world.

“I followed through with his recommendations and my swelling resolved almost within three to four hours. It was remarkable,” she said.

Dr. Knutsen-Larson used the same medication before her second dose of the Moderna vaccine and had no reaction to the second dose.

Since publishing his first findings, dermatologists around the world have reached out to Dr. Munavalli in Charlotte for more on this new treatment. He told us over 20 patients worldwide have now used an ace inhibitor to reduce swelling. So far it has worked, according to Dr. Munavalli, in all cases.

Both doctors say, nothing should prevent patients will cosmetic, or dermal fillers from getting their vaccine.

“We know that the long-standing effects of COVID are much higher risk than a slight swelling following similar reactions. And now that we have a treatment for these filler reactions, if you even were one of the rare side effect profile cases, we can treat you. And there is no reason to avoid the vaccine for this specific side effect. I would do it again in a heartbeat,” Dr. Knutsen-Larson says of getting the Moderna vaccine.

“The CDC has recognized it. And I think that’s important for us because we don’t want to be people to be afraid to get the vaccine,” Dr. Munavalli told the Vaccine Team.

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