Man whose skin peeled after getting COVID-19 jab still glad he got vaccinated

A US man whose skin began peeling after he got a COVID-19 vaccine says he has no regrets because catching the virus would be much worse.

Virginia man Richard Terrell, 74, got the single-shot Johnson & Johnson jab on March 6, local news outlet ABC 8 News reported.

A few days later he suffered a severe rash.

"I began to feel a little discomfort in my armpit and then a few days later I began to get an itchy rash, and then after that I began to swell and my skin turned red," he said.

By March 19 he was in hospital, the "stinging, burning and itching" rash having spread all over his body. 

"It all just happened so fast. My skin peeled off. It's still coming off on my hands now."

Doctors who examined him and did tests concluded there was nothing that could have triggered it except the vaccine, which has received emergency use authorisation in the US. 

"We ruled out all the viral infections, we ruled out COVID-19 itself, we made sure that his kidneys and liver was okay, and finally we came to the conclusion that it was the vaccine that he had received that was the cause," Terrell's dermatologist Fnu Nutan told ABC 8 News.

No other reported cases of peeling rashes have come up - not in the trials nor in real-world use. Luckily, it's treatable. 

"This is something we should all be aware of but we shouldn't be scared of it," said Dr Nutan, adding that rashes are a risk with all kinds of treatments. 

"We know how to manage it, what we don't know how to manage are the severely sick patients with COVID-19 who our team has seen over the last year. It's harder to manage the infection than it is the reaction to the vaccine... If you look at the risk-benefit - if you look at the risk of getting the virus versus the benefit of getting the vaccine, the risk-benefit is still highly in favor of the vaccine."

Fnu Nutan/VCU Health
The rash. Photo credit: Fnu Nutan/VCU Health

Doctors believe a rare combination of the vaccine's ingredients and something unique in Terrell's genetic makeup caused the reaction, but as the only recorded case, it's impossible to say for sure. 

The doctors have submitted their findings to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for further analysis. 

Despite his ordeal, Terrell said he's still glad he got the shot and urges others not to hesitate. At 74, he would have a higher-than-normal risk of serious illness or death.  

All of the major vaccines so far developed for COVID-19 have been deemed safe by health authorities, though there have been concerns the AstraZeneca vaccine could, in rare cases, cause blood clots.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was one of four the New Zealand government has signed agreements for. At present, the plan is to offer everyone the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.