As countries worldwide begin to roll out the various coronavirus vaccines, people suffering from neurological diseases have been anxious to know what the vaccine might mean for them.
The vaccine is approved for neuromuscular patients, and the best advice is for patients to get it as soon as possible. In October 2020, the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) sent a letter to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) with their recommendations for patients suffering from neuromuscular diseases. Citing the additional common symptoms that neuromuscular conditions share with coronavirus, the MDA’s belief was that patients were at higher risk of pulmonary infections. Therefore, they advised that they be included in phase one of any federal roll-out, thereby receiving early vaccine access.
As of December 2020, the CDC currently believes that neurological conditions might be at an increased risk of severe illness due to the coronavirus’s effects. The MDA website regularly updates guidance and information regarding Covid 19 and vaccines at https://www.mda.org/covid19.
Similarly, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society had advised Multiple Sclerosis (MS) patients, regardless of the severity of their condition, to get the coronavirus vaccine as soon as possible. In fact, they especially advise MS sufferers in specific high-risk categories to get the vaccine as soon as their state permits. Examples of high-risk MS sufferers include those with a higher level of disability, those with additional medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity, and MS patients from the Black and Hispanic communities.
The recommendation for people suffering from Myasthenia Gravis (MG) is to also get the vaccine.
Those with myasthenia gravis or any other autoimmune neuromuscular condition should consult their physician with regards to the best timing for vaccine administration with their ongoing treatment.
In a question and answer session in January, Dr. Michael Okun, the Parkinson’s Foundation’s National Medical Advisor, also advised Parkinson’s sufferers to get the vaccine. He cited a study conducted at the University of Iowa that people with Parkinson’s who contracted the coronavirus had a 30% increased chance of mortality. With this in mind, his opinion is that the benefits for a Parkinson’s sufferer of receiving the vaccine are very high. To his knowledge, the vaccine is incredibly safe for them to take.
Epilepsy sufferers are also encouraged to get the vaccine as soon as possible. However, the Epilepsy Foundation has pointed out that sufferers will not be placed in any priority category. According to the CDC categorizations, people with epilepsy will receive the vaccine when other people in their age group are vaccinated. This is only a federal recommendation, so individual states may decide to distribute it differently. The reasoning may be that the CDC did not include epilepsy on its list of conditions considered to be at high risk of severe illness after contracting the coronavirus.
In terms of the actual vaccine, the Epilepsy Foundation does not believe that epilepsy sufferers have any more significant risk of side effects than anyone else.
Alzheimer’s and Dementia
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s and Dementia sufferers are expected to be classed in the second group of people receiving the vaccine. The Alzheimer’s Association believes there is no evidence that the vaccine is unsafe for people with Alzheimer’s and Dementia. They encourage sufferers to get the vaccine as soon as they can.
In all cases, patients suffering from a neurological disease should speak to their healthcare provider for further information. How best to receive the vaccine should be taken in partnership with your doctor and should be based on what is best for each individual patient.
- CDC: People with Certain Medical Conditions
- National MS Society: COVID-19 Vaccine Guidance for People Living with MS
- Parkinson’s & the COVID-19 Vaccine
- Epilepsy.org: COVID-19 Vaccination
- COVID-19 Vaccine: Answers for Dementia Caregivers and People Living with Alzheimer’s
- MG Foundation: COVID-19 RESOURCE CENTER
Steve Schadendorf, MD
Dr. Schadendorf is a board certified neurologist who specializes in vascular neurology at Bass Medical Group. Dr. Schadendorf is a Founding Medical Partner and Medical Director of the Neuromedicine Channel at Doctorpedia.