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COVID-19 Vaccine and Peripheral Neuropathy

Should Patients with Peripheral Neuropathy Get the COVID-19 Vaccine?

The approval of two vaccines for COVID-19 has raised a very basic and important question:  Are the COVID-19 vaccines safe for patients with peripheral neuropathy?

What we know:

  1. In December 2020, two COVID-19 vaccines were approved by the US Food and Drug Administration: one manufactured by pharmaceutical company Pfizer and one manufactured by the pharmaceutical company Moderna.
  2. The vaccines are mRNA vaccines.   According to the CDC, mRNA vaccines [1]:
    1. do not contain a live virus.
    2. do not carry a risk of causing disease in the vaccinated person.
    3. never enters the nucleus of the cell and does not affect or interact with a person’s DNA.
    4. are developed with technology that is new, but not unknown. They have been studied for more than a decade.
  3. The vaccines have been rigorously tested for safety before being authorized for use in the United States.   However, most of the patients in the clinical trials were healthy adults without underlying conditions.

Should patients with peripheral neuropathy receive a COVID-19 vaccination?

Many patients ask if they should get the COVID-19 vaccine, particularly if they have peripheral neuropathy.  FPN’s Scientific Advisory Board Chairman, Dr. Ahmet Hoke of Johns Hopkins University, encourages patients to get the COVID-19 vaccine when offered. “The risks of COVID-19 far outweigh the risks of developing increased or new PN symptoms,” states Hoke.

Should patients with autoimmune or other underlying conditions receive a COVID-19 vaccination?

It is true that patients with underlying conditions were not included in the trials. However, according to FPN Patient Education Advisor, Dr. Shanna Patterson of Mt Sinai West, “what we do know is that the potential impact of contracting COVID-19 is severe.  This known risk must be weighed against the lack of specific information about vaccines in patients with autoimmune disorders. We do know that in other patients these vaccines (approved by FDA) have been rigorously studied for safety and efficacy.”

According to Dr. Patterson, we also have other information such as with flu shots or shingles vaccines that they are generally considered safe for patients with many underlying conditions – and encouraged in many cases to prevent them from the burden of the flu or shingles.

Thus, while there are many unknowns, for now, the risk of the unknowns is weighted against the risk of getting COVID-19 – especially while the numbers of cases nationally remains so very high.

General Advice

While patients should always check with their doctors first before receiving the vaccine, the general view is that the risk of contracting COVID-19 is far more severe than the risk of having the vaccine.  Nonetheless, there are some know circumstances in which patients may wish to avoid the vaccine, such as those patients with certain known allergies [2].  Dr. Hoke also encourages anyone who may have developed side effects from their annual flu vaccine to be more cautious about this vaccine and consult their physician to discuss their personal health issues and concerns.

No doubt more will be known over time as more people receive the vaccines.  Until then, the general consensus is that the risks of the disease outweigh the known risks of the vaccine.  But nonetheless we can not stress enough the importance of always, always checking with your neurologist and your primary care physician before getting any vaccine or taking any new medication.

For more information on COVID-19 vaccines and other public health issues, please check the CDC website here. [3]