COVID-19 Vaccination & Epilepsy
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Most people with COVID-19 experience mild symptoms, but some people become severely ill. While anyone can develop severe illness due to COVID-19, the elderly and those with certain underlying medical conditions are at greatest risk.
People with epilepsy should speak with their health care team or medical provider about their specific risks for COVID-19 and severe illness as well as steps they can take to reduce their risks.
Vaccines teach our immune system to fight the virus that causes COVID-19 and help slow the spread of the virus. The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective at preventing people from getting sick, as well as preventing severe illness, hospitalizations, and death.
There are currently three COVID-19 vaccines: Pfizer’s ComirnatyTM and Moderna’s Spikevax. Both are messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines, as well as Johnson & Johnson’s/Janssen’s viral vector vaccine.
Information about the COVID-19 vaccines can be found on the CDC's website.
Who Should Get the COVID-19 Vaccination?
All three vaccines are now more widely available in the U.S. Everyone 6 months of age and older is eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccination.
It is important that every individual talk to their healthcare provider about their concerns regarding the vaccine. This can’t be emphasized enough. Individual risk varies from person to person.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) recommends COVID-19 vaccination for all people aged 5 years and older. The Pfizer vaccine has been authorized for people ages 5 years and over. The Moderna and J&J vaccines have been authorized for people ages 18 and older.
How Effective Is the COVID Vaccine?
Data has clearly shown that the COVID vaccines reduce the risk of COVID-19 including the risk of severe illness and death. This protection is increased in those who have received a booster. Persons who are vaccinated, and particularly those who have received a booster, are less likely to get infected. Vaccines however are not 100% effective in preventing COVID infection. Breakthrough infections can occur even in those who have been fully vaccinated. Importantly, people who developed breakthrough infections who have been fully vaccinated and boosted are much less likely to develop severe symptoms, to require admission to hospital, or to die of COVID.
Vaccine effectiveness will decline over time and booster shots are required. Although, boosters are not yet recommended for children less than 12 years of age.
As new variants emerge, we will need to continue to monitor how effective the vaccines are against them.
Are Booster Doses Needed?
Everyone age 18 and older who received either two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine should get a booster dose of either vaccine 5 months after their last dose in their primary series. Teens 12-17 years who received two initial doses of the Pfizer vaccine should also get a booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine 5 months after the second dose in their primary series.
Persons age 18 and older who received the Johnson and Johnson vaccine should receive a single booster dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine 2 months after the first dose of Johnson and Johnson.
Visit the CDC’s COVID-19 vaccination page for the latest information on booster doses.
What Side Effects Have Been Reported with COVID Vaccines?
Approximately 15% of persons developed local pain or swelling at the vaccine site that resolved. Approximately 50% of persons develop headache, chills, fatigue, muscle aches or fever that is also temporary and is a sign that your immune system is responding to the vaccine.
Serious side effects are very rare. For specific vaccine side effects please see the CDC website.
There are many safety monitoring systems in place to track adverse events (side effects) including:
- V-safe- a smartphone-based, after-vaccination health checker for people who receive COVID-19 vaccines
- Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS)- a national adverse event reporting system for healthcare providers, vaccine manufacturers and the public
Are Those with Epilepsy at Higher Risk of Side Effects?
There is no evidence that persons with epilepsy are at higher risk of side effects after vaccination. As with any vaccine, some persons may develop a fever which could lower their seizure threshold for the short term, and rarely could result in a break-through seizure. There is no evidence that this vaccination results in worsening of the epilepsy, or brain injury.
Should Those with Seizures Triggered by Fever Avoid Getting the COVID Vaccine?
A rise in temperature (fever) is a common side effect after getting a vaccine. Fevers have been reported as a side effect after getting the COVID vaccine because the immune system is reacting to create immunity in the body. Some people with epilepsy have seizures that are triggered by fever. However, the available data about the risks of COVID and the safety of the COVID vaccines still support vaccination. If you or your loved one have seizures triggered by fever, please talk to your health care provider about:
- Ways to reduce the chance of fever from a vaccine causing a seizure
- Recommendations about where you or your loved one receive the vaccine, such as a location where medical staff are available
- A Seizure Action Plan that includes consideration of rescue therapies
Where Can I Get the Vaccine?
All three vaccines are now more widely available in the U.S. Everyone 5 years of age and older is eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccination. To find a vaccination center near you, visit Vaccines.gov, text your ZIP code to 438829, or call 1-800-232-0233 to find locations near you.
The Disability Information and Access Line (DIAL) connects callers to information about how to access the COVID-19 vaccine and related support for people with disabilities. For assistance, visit acl.gov/dial, call 888-677-1199 from 9 a.m. ET to 8 p.m. ET, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What important safety information should I know about the COVID-19 vaccine?
The COVID vaccines are going through the same rigorous safety assessments as have other vaccines, and corners are not being cut. The purpose of a vaccine is to expose your immune system to the virus in a safe way. If you are exposed to it in the future, your immune system will recognize, attack, and destroy the virus before you become ill from it. The COVID vaccine uses a new technology where messenger RNA is introduced into the body, as opposed to a piece of the virus. Messenger RNA contains the instructions for your body to make a protein related to the virus, but not the actual virus. Your immune system will then make antibodies to that protein. If you are then exposed to COVID infection, your body will rapidly recognize the protein, and will be primed to fight off infection early, preventing you from developing severe illness.
This vaccine has been developed more quickly than previous vaccines, leading some people to worry that this was rushed. Advances in genetics allowed scientists to determine the genetic code of the COVID-19 virus early, which was critical to making the messenger RNA for the vaccine. More than 555 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been given in the United States from December 14, 2020, through March 7, 2022. The safety has been very carefully monitored. Rare side effects occur, but overall, the vaccines have been shown to be both SAFE and EFFECTIVE.
All COVID vaccines continue to be evaluated by intensive safety monitoring. In most cases, the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines are preferred over the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. This is because the Johnson and Johnson vaccine has been associated with rare blood clots and is less effective in preventing COVID.
I am otherwise healthy, should I get the vaccine?
Persons who are otherwise healthy can still develop severe disease due to COVID, so it is strongly recommended that they are vaccinated. Vaccination will also decrease the chance you will spread COVID to those around you, who may be more vulnerable to severe disease.
I have already had COVID-19 and recovered. Do I still need to get the vaccine?
People who have had COVID can be re-infected. We do not yet know how long after infection someone is protected from getting COVID-19 again. Some data suggests that natural immunity after COVID-19 may not last very long. In addition, infection with a previous COVID variant may not protect you from a new variant. The CDC recommends that persons who previously had COVID should still get the vaccination. If you were treated for COVID-19 with monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma, you should wait 90 days before getting a COVID-19 vaccine.
Can pregnant women or breastfeeding mothers get the vaccine?
The CDC recommends COVID-19 vaccination for all women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to get pregnant now, or might become pregnant in the future. More information can be found on the CDC’s pregnancy and breastfeeding COVID-19 page.
Should children with epilepsy get the vaccine?
As with adults with epilepsy, currently there is no evidence that children with seizures alone (no other compromising risk factors) are at higher risk for vaccination adverse events than anyone else in this age group. Therefore, we encourage children with epilepsy who are otherwise eligible to also get the COVID-19 vaccination.
I mask, practice social distancing and self-quarantine when necessary - should I still get a COVID-19 vaccine?
Given the extent of COVID-19 spread in the U.S., it is critically important to develop large-scale immunity through vaccination to stop the pandemic. COVID often spreads in the community from people who do not have symptoms. People can be contagious for as long as 14 days without symptoms, and those with symptoms can infect others two days before their symptoms begin.
Do I need to continue to mask and social distance even after I get the vaccine?
Persons who have been vaccinated must continue to follow the updated CDC guidance for masking and social distancing.
The guidance regarding masking is continuously evolving as cases of COVID surge and then fall.
Can I get a vaccine medical exemption if I have epilepsy?
The American Epilepsy Society does not recommend medical exemption from COVID-19 vaccination in patients with epilepsy in the absence of complicating medical factors.
Who is paying for the COVID vaccine?
Vaccination doses purchased with U.S. taxpayer dollars will be given to the American people at no charge. However, vaccine providers will be able to charge an administration fee to give the shot to someone and would be able to have this fee reimbursed by the patient’s public or private insurance company. For uninsured patients, this fee can be covered by the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Provider Relief Fund.
What is emergency use authorization?
Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) is a way to facilitate the availability of an unapproved medical product, such as vaccines, during a public health emergency. Since COVID-19 is a public health emergency, all of the COVID-19 vaccines initially received an EUA, however as noted above, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are now fully approved for specific age groups.
For more information, please visit the CDC website on vaccination. The CDC provides resources and information, from tracking reporting to side effects. They also provide information for those in specific populations like older adults and those with disabilities.
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