COVID-19 Vaccination & Epilepsy
Most people with COVID-19 experience mild symptoms, but some people become severely ill. While anyone can develop severe illness due to COVID-19, the elderly and those with certain underlying medical conditions are at greatest risk.
People with epilepsy should speak with their health care team or medical provider about their specific risks for COVID-19 and severe illness as well as steps they can take to reduce their risks.
Vaccines teach our immune system to fight the virus that causes COVID-19 and help slow the spread of the virus. The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective at preventing people from getting sick, as well as preventing severe illness, hospitalizations, and death.
There are currently three COVID-19 vaccines: Pfizer’s ComirnatyTM and Moderna’s Spikevax. Both are messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines, as well as Johnson & Johnson’s/Janssen’s viral vector vaccine.
Information about the COVID-19 vaccines can be found on the CDC's website.
Who Should Get the COVID-19 Vaccination?
All three vaccines are now more widely available in the U.S. Everyone 6 months of age and older is eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccination.
It is important that every individual talk to their healthcare provider about their concerns regarding the vaccine. This can’t be emphasized enough. Individual risk varies from person to person.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) recommends COVID-19 vaccination for all people aged 5 years and older. The Pfizer vaccine has been authorized for people ages 5 years and over. The Moderna and J&J vaccines have been authorized for people ages 18 and older.
How Effective Is the COVID Vaccine?
Data has clearly shown that the COVID vaccines reduce the risk of COVID-19 including the risk of severe illness and death. This protection is increased in those who have received a booster. Persons who are vaccinated, and particularly those who have received a booster, are less likely to get infected. Vaccines however are not 100% effective in preventing COVID infection. Breakthrough infections can occur even in those who have been fully vaccinated. Importantly, people who developed breakthrough infections who have been fully vaccinated and boosted are much less likely to develop severe symptoms, to require admission to hospital, or to die of COVID.
Vaccine effectiveness will decline over time and booster shots are required. Although, boosters are not yet recommended for children less than 12 years of age.
As new variants emerge, we will need to continue to monitor how effective the vaccines are against them.
Are Booster Doses Needed?
Everyone age 18 and older who received either two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine should get a booster dose of either vaccine 5 months after their last dose in their primary series. Teens 12-17 years who received two initial doses of the Pfizer vaccine should also get a booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine 5 months after the second dose in their primary series.
Persons age 18 and older who received the Johnson and Johnson vaccine should receive a single booster dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine 2 months after the first dose of Johnson and Johnson.
Visit the CDC’s COVID-19 vaccination page for the latest information on booster doses.
What Side Effects Have Been Reported with COVID Vaccines?
Approximately 15% of persons developed local pain or swelling at the vaccine site that resolved. Approximately 50% of persons develop headache, chills, fatigue, muscle aches or fever that is also temporary and is a sign that your immune system is responding to the vaccine.
Serious side effects are very rare. For specific vaccine side effects please see the CDC website.
There are many safety monitoring systems in place to track adverse events (side effects) including:
- V-safe- a smartphone-based, after-vaccination health checker for people who receive COVID-19 vaccines
- Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS)- a national adverse event reporting system for healthcare providers, vaccine manufacturers and the public
Are Those with Epilepsy at Higher Risk of Side Effects?
There is no evidence that persons with epilepsy are at higher risk of side effects after vaccination. As with any vaccine, some persons may develop a fever which could lower their seizure threshold for the short term, and rarely could result in a break-through seizure. There is no evidence that this vaccination results in worsening of the epilepsy, or brain injury.
Should Those with Seizures Triggered by Fever Avoid Getting the COVID Vaccine?
A rise in temperature (fever) is a common side effect after getting a vaccine. Fevers have been reported as a side effect after getting the COVID vaccine because the immune system is reacting to create immunity in the body. Some people with epilepsy have seizures that are triggered by fever. However, the available data about the risks of COVID and the safety of the COVID vaccines still support vaccination. If you or your loved one have seizures triggered by fever, please talk to your health care provider about:
- Ways to reduce the chance of fever from a vaccine causing a seizure
- Recommendations about where you or your loved one receive the vaccine, such as a location where medical staff are available
- A Seizure Action Plan that includes consideration of rescue therapies
Where Can I Get the Vaccine?
All three vaccines are now more widely available in the U.S. Everyone 5 years of age and older is eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccination. To find a vaccination center near you, visit Vaccines.gov, text your ZIP code to 438829, or call 1-800-232-0233 to find locations near you.
The Disability Information and Access Line (DIAL) connects callers to information about how to access the COVID-19 vaccine and related support for people with disabilities. For assistance, visit acl.gov/dial, call 888-677-1199 from 9 a.m. ET to 8 p.m. ET, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Frequently Asked Questions
I mask, practice social distancing and self-quarantine when necessary - should I still get a COVID-19 vaccine?
For more information, please visit the CDC website on vaccination. The CDC provides resources and information, from tracking reporting to side effects. They also provide information for those in specific populations like older adults and those with disabilities.
Epilepsy centers provide you with a team of specialists to help you diagnose your epilepsy and explore treatment options.
Find in-depth information on anti-seizure medications so you know what to ask your doctor.
Epilepsy and Seizures 24/7 Helpline
Call our Epilepsy and Seizures 24/7 Helpline and talk with an epilepsy information specialist or submit a question online.
Tools & Resources
Get information, tips, and more to help you manage your epilepsy.