If you have seizures or epilepsy, you may be concerned about your potential reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine. You may be worried about getting the vaccine if you have previously had unpleasant side effects from using new medications.
In the journey towards overcoming COVID-19, which is caused by the SARS-CoV2 virus, the development and approval for the use of COVID-19 vaccines are exciting and important in protecting at-risk communities from serious illnesses.
However, the development of these vaccines has raised many questions from the general public about the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines. It is important to note that overall, epilepsy experts believe that using these vaccines in people with epilepsy, and other neurological conditions, is safe.
Since the COVID-19 vaccine is relatively new, there are few completed studies on its effects on people with epilepsy. The evidence gathered by completed studies suggests that the associated risks are minor.
Epilepsy experts, doctors, and organizations that support people in the epilepsy community agree that getting the COVID-19 vaccine is safe for people with epilepsy.
The International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE) conveys the message that any risks of developing the COVID-19 virus are much greater than those that might come from getting the COVID-19 vaccine. If you have any concerns, it is recommended that you speak to your doctor or neurologist.
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The administration of COVID-19 vaccines reduces the risk of severe illness and death as a result of contracting COVID-19. Protection is further increased in individuals who have received a booster vaccine.
The COVID-19 vaccine is not 100% effective in preventing infection, and breakthrough infections sometimes occur in fully vaccinated people. However, fully vaccinated people are much less likely to experience severe illness, hospitalization, and death.
The effectiveness of the vaccine does decline over time, and booster shots are required to maintain a good level of protection.
Only limited data about how the COVID-19 vaccine affects people with epilepsy exists. So far, research suggests that the side effects that come along with the COVID-19 vaccine are no different for those with epilepsy than for those without.
One study,¹ which involved a cohort of 111 people with epilepsy, found that the COVID-19 vaccination caused side effects. Commonly patients reported a sore arm, fever, or headache.
But 94% of the patients had no increase in the amount or severity of seizures following vaccination. One individual within the study reported status epilepticus, a condition in which a seizure lasts for more than 5 minutes or when an individual has more than one seizure within 5 minutes without returning to normal consciousness between each seizure.
Another study² of 54 individuals with epilepsy in Germany found that most individuals developed no side effects following vaccination. Approximately one-third of the cohort experienced common vaccine side effects such as headaches, fever, and tiredness.
Similar to many other vaccines, administration of the COVID-19 vaccine can cause side effects, which include:
Soreness around the injection site
The side effect of fever may be a cause of concern for people who have seizures that are induced by high temperatures. If you often have seizures induced by fever, you must talk to a health professional and create a management plan before having your vaccine.
The ILAE suggests that antipyretic drugs such as paracetamol or acetaminophen should be taken regularly for up to³ following vaccination or the duration that an individual is experiencing fever symptoms. This can also reduce the risk of a breakthrough seizure occurring.
It’s important to check that you aren’t allergic to any ingredients in the vaccine. If you have had allergic reactions to vaccines or drugs before, speak to the person administering your vaccination and your epilepsy specialist.
If an individual is taking antiseizure medication to control their epilepsy, they may have concerns about drug interactions with the COVID-19 vaccine.
If you’re worried about potential drug interactions⁴ between the COVID-19 vaccine and anti-seizure drugs, have a chat with your doctor. While researchers have started investigating the link, more studies are required before conclusive claims about the potential interactions between COVID-19 vaccines and antiepileptic drugs can be made.
Deciding to have the COVID-19 vaccine may be difficult, and no one is obligated to have the vaccine administered if they don’t want it. However, evidence has suggested that the COVID-19 vaccine doesn't cause any increase in adverse effects for individuals with epilepsy compared to those without.
If an individual with epilepsy decides not to get the vaccination, the risk of getting COVID-19 and having more severe symptoms and complications is increased. COVID-19 symptoms in an unvaccinated individual may be more severe than the common side effects seen by those who are vaccinated.
The majority of epilepsy specialists, doctors, and foundations or organizations such as the Epilepsy Foundation recommend that people with epilepsy get the vaccine. If you’re concerned about the COVID-19 vaccine and epilepsy risk, you must speak to your doctor.
If you have epilepsy or are at risk of experiencing seizures, it’s important to note that there is currently no evidence suggesting a link between the COVID-19 vaccine and seizure occurrence. If you are concerned, it’s best to talk to your health professional to find the best solution for your needs.
People over the age of 65 and people with existing medical conditions are at higher risk of developing more severe illnesses due to COVID-19 infection.
You’re also at higher risk of severe illness due to COVID-19 if you:
Are a woman who is pregnant or has recently given birth
Have a high-risk health condition such as:
Mental health issues
Liver and kidney disease
Children with epilepsy (with no other comorbidities or risk factors) don’t face a higher risk of adverse effects to vaccination with the COVID-19 vaccine.
The Epilepsy Foundation encourages children who have epilepsy and are eligible for the vaccination to seek a COVID-19 vaccination.
Medical exemption from being vaccinated against COVID-19 is not recommended by The American Epilepsy Society⁵. People with epilepsy are recommended to get the COVID-19 vaccination.
Reinfection with COVID-19 is possible, and some evidence has suggested that natural immunity following COVID-19 infection doesn’t last long. You can be reinfected with COVID-19 within as little as three months of contracting the virus.
Infection with one COVID-19 variant may not protect you from other variants. The CDC⁶ recommends that people who have previously been infected with COVID-19 still get vaccinated.
Getting a COVID-19 vaccine after you recover from COVID-19 infection provides added protection against COVID-19. You may consider delaying your vaccine by 3 months from when your symptoms started or if you had no symptoms when you received a positive test.
COVID-19 vaccines and people with epilepsy | International League Against Epilepsy
AES statement for health care providers on COVID-19 vaccination for people with epilepsy | American Epilepsy Society
Frequently asked questions about COVID-19 vaccination | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
COVID-19 vaccination & epilepsy | Epilepsy Foundation
Who is at high risk for severe coronavirus disease? | Johns Hopkins Medicine