Last reviewed 23 July 2021
Some research suggests people with epilepsy could have a slightly increased risk of getting seriously ill or dying from coronavirus. Because of this possible slight increased risk, people with epilepsy aged 16-64 were invited to receive the COVID-19 vaccine earlier than people without underlying health conditions.
Research by Public Health England shows that vaccination against COVID-19 is highly effective in people with underlying health conditions. So if you have received both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine you should have a high level of protection from getting ill with COVID-19. But no vaccine offers complete protection and cases are still high. As many restrictions end, it's still important to follow the general guidance to help keep yourself and others safe. This includes meeting people outside or opening windows to let fresh air in if you meet indoors, wearing a face covering in crowded places and washing your hands regularly.
Are the COVID-19 vaccines safe for people with epilepsy?
The Association of British Neurologists says all COVID-19 vaccines are safe for people with neurological conditions such as epilepsy. The COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in the UK have met the strict safety standards set by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority (MHRA). So far, millions of people have received a COVID-19 vaccine and reports of serious side-effects, such as allergic reactions, have been very rare.
COVID-19 vaccines are not expected to interact with epilepsy medicines. This means the vaccine should not affect how your medicines work, and your medicines should not affect the vaccine.
Like other vaccines, COVID-19 vaccines can cause mild or moderate side-effects including fever. Not everyone will get side-effects, but if you do, most will go away after a few days. For some people with epilepsy, fever can make them more likely to have a seizure. If you are concerned about fever, the International League Against Epilepsy says that taking a fever-reducing medicine such as paracetamol for 48 hours after you have the vaccine reduces the risk. For most people, the risk of serious illness from COVID-19 infection far outweighs the risk of side-effects from the COVID-19 vaccine.
How can I get the COVID-19 vaccine?
People with epilepsy aged 16-64 were included in one of the priority groups to receive the vaccine early, so most people with epilepsy should already have been invited to get the vaccine. If you are 18 or over and think you may have been missed, or haven’t booked your appointments yet, you can book now. For more information and to book your appointments for a first and second dose, visit the website for the place where you live:
People with epilepsy aged 16 and 17 are also eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, but online booking is not available in all parts of the UK for this age group. If you are in this age group and have not been invited to book a COVID-19 vaccination, contact your GP.
Can children with epilepsy aged under 16 get the vaccine?
At the moment there are no plans to offer the COVID-19 vaccine to children with epilepsy aged under 16. On 19 July the government announced it will offer the vaccine to children aged 12 to 15 with severe neuro-disabilities, Down's syndrome, a supressed immune system or multiple or severe learning disabilities. It will also be offered to children aged 12 and over who live with someone who has a suppressed immune system.
The government has asked the NHS to start vaccinating people in these groups as soon as possible. We don't have any information yet on how eligible children will be identified and invited to get the vaccine, but will update this page when we know more.
Will I be offered a booster vaccination?
The government has announced plans for people at higher risk from COVID-19 to get a third ‘booster’ dose of the vaccine from September. The plans have not been confirmed, but the current advice says the booster doses should be offered in two stages.
Stage 1: The following people should be offered a third dose COVID-19 booster vaccine and the annual flu vaccine, as soon as possible from September 2021:
- Adults aged 16 years and over whose immune system is suppressed
- People living in residential care homes for older adults
- All adults aged 70 years or over
- Adults aged 16 years and over who are clinically extremely vulnerable
- Frontline health and social care workers
Stage 2: The following people should be offered a third COVID-19 booster vaccine (and the flu vaccine if eligible), as soon as possible after stage 1:
- All adults aged 50 years and over
- All adults aged 16 – 49 years who are in a flu or COVID-19 at-risk group (this includes people with epilepsy)
- Adults who live with someone whose immune system is suppressed
The government has not made a final decision on whether this plan will go ahead, but says a decision will be announced before September. We will update this page when we know more.
If I catch coronavirus could it trigger a seizure?
Some people with epilepsy are more likely to have a seizure when they are unwell, particularly if they have an illness with a high temperature (fever). Fever is a symptom of coronavirus, so this could trigger seizures for some people with epilepsy.
The best way to protect yourself from having a seizure is to keep taking your epilepsy medicine as usual throughout any illness. If you do get a fever, the NHS says you can take paracetamol or ibuprofen to help bring your temperature down. Both are safe for most people with epilepsy, but check with your pharmacist that they don't interact with your epilepsy medicine.
For most people with epilepsy, a seizure is not a medical emergency and does not need hospital treatment. However, if you are at risk of status epilepticus, make sure you have an up-to-date emergency care plan from your epilepsy specialist. This should tell you and the people around you what to do if you have a seizure and when to call an ambulance.
Most people with epilepsy can safely wear simple cloth face coverings. A face covering made of breathable material should not cause any harm if someone is wearing one during a seizure.
Some people have told us they are worried about face coverings making it harder to breathe or making them overheat. There is no evidence that this is a problem with the type of face coverings recommended for the general public, made of breathable material.
If you find that wearing a face covering makes you feel uncomfortable or anxious, it’s worth trying different ones to find one that’s right for you. The gov.uk website has advice about what counts as a face covering. You could also try wearing a face covering for short periods of time at home first, to get used to the way it feels.
If you have other conditions as well as epilepsy and are worried these may affect your ability to wear a face covering, you may wish to check with your doctor. Or you could get advice from a charity that specialises in your medical condition.
Do I have to wear a face covering?
In England, the legal requirement to wear a face covering has ended. But the government still recommends people wear a face covering in crowded places such as on public transport. Many public transport companies and shops will still ask you to wear a face covering, unless you are exempt.
Evidence shows that wearing a face covering may help stop the spread of coronavirus to others. So it’s important to wear one if you can.
There are some exemptions to the rules. For example, you do not have to wear a face covering if doing so would cause you severe distress. If you are unable to wear a face covering there is no requirement to prove you are exempt. But if you would prefer to show something, the gov.uk website has printable exemption cards.
I’m worried about catching coronavirus at work but my employer says I have to go in. What can I do?
Depending on the part of the UK you live in and the type of work you do, your employer may be able to ask you to come to work. In England, the government is no longer telling people to work from home, but recommends a gradual return to the workplace over the summer.
Your employer should take steps to protect all their employees at work and make sure your workplace is safe. The different governments of the UK have each issued guidance on working during the coronavirus pandemic:
Your employer should tell you what steps they are taking to keep you safe at work. If you don’t feel safe being at work, talk to your employer about your concerns. In some cases, they may be able to help you work from home or make other reasonable adjustments. If you don’t feel they are doing enough to make the workplace safe, you can report this to your local authority or the Health and Safety Executive.
Standard medicines used to treat seizures, known as anti-epileptic drugs, do not suppress the immune system.
A small number of people who have epilepsy as part of a syndrome or other medical condition, may be prescribed medicines that can weaken the immune system. These include steroids and everolimus, a medicine taken by some people with tuberous sclerosis complex. If you are taking these medicines, speak to your doctor for advice.
The Department of Health and Social Care is working with drug companies to minimise any impact of coronavirus on drug supplies. Drug companies have already built up stockpiles of medicines in preparation for Brexit and have now been asked to maintain this level of stockpiling. This should mean medicines will continue to be available, even if there are temporary disruptions to the supply chain. If we find out about any shortages of epilepsy medicines, we will post these on our Drugwatch webpage.
If your child has epilepsy alone and no other health conditions then they are unlikely to be at increased risk from coronavirus. In general, children appear to be less severely affected by coronavirus than adults. But if your child has complex epilepsy or other conditions alongside their epilepsy, you may wish to ask their doctor or epilepsy nurse for advice.
You’ll need to stay at home and not leave home for any reason (self-isolate) if you or someone you live with:
- Has symptoms of coronavirus
- Is waiting for a coronavirus test result
- Has tested positive for coronavirus
You'll also need to self-isolate if you've been told to by the NHS Test and Trace service.
The NHS has issued advice about self-isolating including how long to stay home for. In addition, if you have epilepsy it’s a good idea to think about:
Getting food and medicine
While self-isolating, you should arrange for food and medicine to be delivered to you, or ask friends, family or neighbours to collect it for you. Check with your local pharmacy if they offer a medicine delivery service. If you usually collect your prescriptions from your doctor's surgery, you could ask if they can be sent electronically to a pharmacy of your choice instead.
If you need help getting food or prescriptions while self-isolating, here are some sources of help:
- Covid-19 Mutual Aid has details of local volunteer groups
- Your local council can put you in touch with volunteers in your area
- The Scope website has information about food delivery services
- NHS Volunteer Responders can help with delivering shopping and medicines. Call 0808 196 3646
Keeping in touch
If you live alone, keep in regular contact with friends, family members or neighbours while self-isolating. You could ask them to contact you regularly by phone or text to check you are ok. This is especially important if you have uncontrolled seizures.
Look after your emotional wellbeing
You may be feeling anxious about coronavirus or your epilepsy. Our information on wellbeing may help. You can also find information about looking after your wellbeing and coping with anxiety related to coronavirus from Mind and Anxiety UK.
Neuropsychologists Professor Gus Baker and Professor Steven Kemp have written an article on surviving the COVID-19 pandemic from a psychological perspective.
Epilepsy Action would like to thank Dr Rhys Thomas, Honorary Consultant in Epilepsy and Intermediate Clinical Fellow at Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, for his contribution to this information.