Epilepsy and COVID-19 vaccines

The Therapeutic Goods Administration has provisionally approved the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine and the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine for use in Australia. Ahead of the roll-out, we have compiled a list of Frequently Asked Questions about epilepsy and COVID-19 vaccinations below. *Information correct at time of writing 18/02/21

Frequently Asked Questions

The data to date suggests the vaccines are very safe. The Epilepsy Foundation of America reports there is currently no evidence that people with epilepsy are at higher risk of side effects after vaccination. There is also no evidence that this vaccination results in worsening of epilepsy, or brain injury.

As with any vaccine, some people may develop a fever which could lower their seizure threshold for the short term. In very rare circumstances, this potentially could result in a break-through seizure. We suggest consulting your doctor for advice on what is best for you.

COVID-19 vaccines have been developed more quickly than previous vaccines, but this is no cause for concern. Here in Australia, the vaccine/s need to be approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) before they are distributed to Australians. The Australian government advises of extensive checks and balances that are required at every stage of the development of a vaccine, and this is no different for a COVID-19 vaccine. No stages in the development stage have been by-passed. All vaccines are tested through three phases of clinical trials to ensure they meet the gold standard.

You can learn more about how vaccines work here.

According to the Center for Disease Control, (CDC) in the US, two vaccines have been authorised and recommended to prevent COVID-19:

  • Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine and,
  • Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine 

The National Health Service U.K. lists the following vaccines available across the United Kingdom:

  • Pfizer/BioTech COVID-19 vaccine
  • Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine
  • Moderna vaccine for COVID- 19 vaccine

As of January 25, 2021, the Therapeutic Goods Administration has provisionally approved the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for use in Australia. This is for individuals 16 years and older. Two doses will be required for this vaccine, at least 21 days apart.  These vaccines will begin being administered on 22 February. On February 16, 2021, the TGA approved the Oxford/AstraZeneca in Australia for people aged 18 years and older.  

Find more information here.

Australia has entered into four separate agreements for the supply of COVID-19 vaccines, if they are proved to be safe and effective.

These are currently:

Find more info about Australian vaccine agreements here.

According to the Australian Department of Health website, the rollout of safe and effective vaccines will be guided by Australia’s COVID-19 Vaccination Policy

In Australia, state and territory governments will each be responsible for developing their COVID-19 vaccination implementation plans, in line with this and Australian Government expectations.

More information on vaccine distribution in Australia is pending.

The COVID-19 vaccine will be voluntary and safe and effective vaccines approved by the TGA will be available to all Australians for free.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) has provided advice to the Australian Government on which groups should be prioritised for the first doses for possible COVID-19 vaccination in Australia. *These groups may be reviewed and changed as more information becomes available.

You can find out more about the COVID-19 vaccine national roll-out phases here. 

At time of writing, adults with an underlying medical condition, including those with a disability are in the phase 1b priority group.
According to The Department of Health, people will need to provide proof of these conditions to demonstrate their eligibility for vaccination via My Health Record, a health professional referral if required, or a declaration form.

The Epilepsy Foundation of America states that some people may get very mild flu-like symptoms post administration of the U.S. vaccines, including low grade fever.

The NHS UK reports most side effects of the vaccines are mild and should last no longer than a week such as a sore arm where the needle went in, feeling tired, a headache, feeling a bit sick or achy.

There is currently no scientific evidence to suggest COVID-19 vaccines interact with anti-seizure medications. However, according to the Epilepsy Foundation of America the U.S. vaccines may not be as effective for people on immunosuppressant therapies (for example: intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIg) or high dose steroids) for the treatment of their epilepsy (usually autoimmune epilepsies). This is because the immune system may not respond in the same way. Nevertheless, the vaccine is still recommended in these circumstances as it may reduce the severity of COVID-19 if it is contracted.

As previously mentioned, it is advisable to speak to your healthcare provider about the vaccine. Individual risk will vary from person to person, so it’s best to seek medical advice on what is appropriate for you or your loved one.

At this stage the vaccines are not recommended for children under 16 years and all other precautions are in line with usual immunisation recommendations.

According to the Epilepsy Foundation of America, there currently isn’t any data on the safety and effectiveness of any COVID-19 vaccine for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. They advise if you are pregnant or lactating,  to speak to your health care provider about if you should get the vaccine.

In the U.K, the NHS states there is no evidence the COVID-19 vaccine is unsafe if you’re pregnant, but a stronger evidence base is needed before the vaccine is routinely offered to pregnant women. It is advisable to discuss with your healthcare provider.

It is not yet known how long the vaccines will be protective. It’s possible people may need periodic boosters, similar to a flu shot.

If you have questions about epilepsy and COVID-19 vaccinations, please contact our Services Team on 1300 852 853 or send us a message. Please note we are unable to provide medical advice.

Sources

Australian Government Department of Health. (2020). Covid-19 vaccines. Australian Government Department of Health. Retrieved January 20, 2021 from https://www.health.gov.au/initiatives-and-programs/covid-19-vaccines

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). COVID-19. Retrieved January 27, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/different-vaccines.html

Epilepsy Foundation. (2021). COVID-19 vaccination. Retrieved January 20, 2021, from www.epilepsy.com/learn/covid-19-and-epilepsy/covid-19-vaccination

Epilepsy Foundation of America. (2021, January 12). Thank you for joining our Facebook Live about the COVID-19 vaccine. Please enter your questions in the chat! [Facebook Live video]. Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/EpilepsyFoundationofAmerica/videos/115517787040277

Swanborough, N. (2021). Covid-19 vaccine- Q & A. Epilepsy Society. Retrieved January 20, 2021, from https://epilepsysociety.org.uk/latest/news/Covid-vaccine-Q-A