Epilepsy and COVID-19 vaccines

You can find a list of Frequently Asked Questions about epilepsy and COVID-19 vaccinations below.

Frequently Asked Questions

The data to date suggests the vaccines are very safe. The Epilepsy Foundation of America and International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE) report 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. 

Consult your neurologist, specialist, or GP for advice on what is best for your unique situation.

There are currently a number of different ways that people can access a COVID -19 vaccine, including via some GP practices, pharmacies & government vaccine hubs/clinics.  Before booking into one of these services, it is important that all people living with epilepsy see their treating neurologist, specialist or GP to discuss their specific circumstances to determine if vaccination is appropriate & safe for them.  It may also be a good time to update your epilepsy management plan.

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.

As of January 25, 2021, the Therapeutic Goods Administration 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 began being administered on 22 February. On February 16, 2021, the TGA approved the Oxford/AstraZeneca in Australia for people aged 18 years and older.  

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) have recently updated the advice about who should receive each type of vaccine. The updated recommendation is:

 

 

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

Children aged 12 to 15 with severe asthma and epilepsy, among other conditions, as well as Indigenous children are now eligible for the Pfizer vaccine.

The following people are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine:

  • All adults aged 40-49
  • All Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 16 to 49
  • NDIS participants, and carers of NDIS participants, aged 16 years and over
  • People aged 16 and over with an underlying medical condition or significant disability

This is in addition to other people, who were already eligible for vaccination, click here for further information.

Use the COVID-19 vaccine eligibility checker to find out when you can receive a COVID-19 vaccine and how to locate your nearest vaccination clinic.

 

You may experience some side effects following vaccination. Most side effects last no more than a couple of days and you will recover without any problems.

Common side effects include mild fever and chills, headache, muscle pain, redness or swelling at the site of the needle, joint pain and tiredness.

Serious reactions are rare- you can find more information here.

After any vaccine, people living with epilepsy are encouraged to monitor their condition & seek medical assistance if seizure activity increases or changes in presentation.  If the increased frequency or presentation changes are significant & not associated with usual cycles in your seizures, your treating doctor may report this as a potential side effect of the COVID-19 vaccination.  You can also independently report any suspected side effects associated with the COVID-19 vaccine to the Therapeutic Goods Association here.

The risk of COVID-19 vaccine interacting with anti-seizure medications is very low. This is because vaccines work in a different way when compared to most 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.

Before you receive a COVID-19 vaccine, you should let your provider know that you have epilepsy, as well as any other important information such as medications you may be taking. If you have any medical questions concerning the vaccine, speak with your treating doctor.

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.

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

Queensland Health has provided a directive on wearing masks- there are a few exemptions which can be viewed at

Your treating doctor (Neurologist, Specialist or GP) is the best person to advise you around matters relating to COVID -19, including vaccination.  They will consider your medical history & current treatments to determine an appropriate plan for your individual needs & should be contacted prior to booking in for your covid-19 vaccine.  Naturally, there is much concern around COVID-19, particularly within the epilepsy community.  If you wish to talk about your concerns, contact our Living Well 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