No worse seizures in people with epilepsy after vaccine

Published: December 13 2021
Last updated: September 28 2022

There is no evidence of worsening seizures after the COVID-19 vaccine. This is according to two recent studies, one from China by Lu and colleagues, published in Epilepsia, and another from Germany by von Wrede and colleagues, published in Epilepsy & Behavior.

The Chinese study aimed to understand the COVID-19 vaccine uptake among people with epilepsy and investigate associated side-effects in this group.

The study included 491 people with epilepsy, 217 people with other neurological conditions and 273 without neurological conditions, all matched for age and sex. Of those with epilepsy, 42% had had their first COVID-19 vaccine at the time of the study. This was compared to 84% of people with other neurological conditions and 93% of people without neurological conditions.

The researchers found that among those people with epilepsy who were not vaccinated, more than half (59.6%) were willing to have the vaccine. However, around half were concerned about possible side-effects (53.5%) and just under half (47%) were worried about losing seizure control.

Despite these worries, the researchers found that the occurrence of side-effects was similar between those with epilepsy and those with no neurological conditions. Nineteen people with epilepsy reported an increase in seizure frequency (4%). However, the study authors explain that there is no way to say what the cause was, and suggest it may have just been a natural fluctuation. They also explained that around a third of those who reported an increase in seizure frequency had also stopped or reduced their epilepsy medicines.

The authors explained that there was no evidence of worsening seizures because of the vaccine, and yet the uptake of the vaccine among people with epilepsy was less than half of that of people without epilepsy. They added that measures should be put in place to increase the uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine among people with epilepsy.

Most people in the study had inactivated vaccines, which are the ones available in China, and are different to the ones available in the UK. However, the study from Germany looked at tolerance and side-effects from the COVID-19 vaccines that are available in the UK.

This study included 54 people with epilepsy who had received their first vaccine. The vaccine was well or very well tolerated by two-thirds of people, and one third reported general vaccine side-effects, such as headache, fatigue, fever and shivering. However, only two people (4%) reported epilepsy-related side-effects. In one person it was an increase in seizure frequency the day following the vaccine and in the other it was a new seizure type experienced. The researchers in this study also said it is not clear whether this is vaccination-related or just a natural fluctuation in seizures.

The study authors concluded that the data suggests that the COVID-19 vaccine “is safe and well tolerated, particularly with regard to epilepsy-related adverse effects”.