August 17, 2021

Safety and Tolerability of the Novel 2019 Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Vaccines Among People With Epilepsy (PwE): A Cross-Sectional Study

Abstract, originally published in Seizure.

Background: People with epilepsy (PwE) were concerned about the safety of the novel 2019 Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) vaccines.

Objective: This study aimed to assess the side effects experienced by PwE following vaccination with COVID-19 vaccines and to identify the causes of vaccine hesitation.

Methods: We administered a questionnaire to PwE, who visited the epilepsy clinic at Ibn Sina Hospital in Kuwait during the first two working weeks of April 2021. It included socio-demographic, epilepsy status, and vaccination data. In addition, we asked those who were not vaccinated yet about the reasons and their plan.

Results: A total of 111 PwE were surveyed, with 82 being vaccinated and 29 being unvaccinated. Out of the 82 vaccinated, 66 (80.5%) reported at least one side effect. Patients who received the Pfizer BioNTech mRNA vaccine (BNT162b2) (first, second dosage); and the Oxford-AstraZenecaa chimpanzee adenovirus-vectored vaccine (ChAdOx1nCoV-19) (first dose) had the following reactions: Pain at the injection site (40%, 67.6%), 43.8%, fatigue (47%, 32.4%), 46.9%, Headache (33.3%, 35.3%), 34.4% and Myalgia (40%, 35%), 50% respectively. Local site effects, including pain (67.6% vs. 40%, p = < 0.001) and redness (26.5% vs 6.7%, p = 0.019), were more statistically significantly after the second dose of BNT162b2 vaccine compared to the first dose of the same vaccine. While there was no significant difference in systemic side effects frequencies between the two doses of the BNT162b2 vaccine. The systemic side effects were more statistically significantly after the first dose of ChAdOx1nCoV-19 compared to the first dose of the BNT162b2 vaccine and those included fever (56.3% vs 13.3%, p = < 0.001), chills (37.5% vs 6.7%, p = < 0.001), myalgia (50% vs 40%, p = < 0.001) and arthralgia (25% vs 6.7%, p = 0.021). The local site reactions were not significantly different between the first doses of both vaccines. Among the subgroup who had vaccine-related side effects, 66.7% were females, 90.9% were 55 or younger, 63.6% were on polytherapy, 74% had side effects for one day or less, and 95% were symptoms free by the end of the first-week post-vaccination. Symptoms were mild in 68% of the patients and moderate in 29.3%. Most patients (93.9%) did not report seizure worsening after vaccination. The relative risk of seizure worsening after the first and second doses of BNT162b2 and the first dose of ChAdOx1nCoV-19 vaccines was 1.027 (95% CI 0.891-1.183), 1.019 (95% CI 0.928-1.119), and 1.026 (95% CI 0.929-1.134) respectively. After the first dose of BNT162b2, one patient reported the development of status epilepticus. Among the non-vaccinated group, 34.9% were still indecisive, while 37.9% rejected the vaccination. Fear of adverse effects (42.9%) and fear of epilepsy worsening (23.8%) were the main reasons for vaccine hesitation.

Conclusions: This study shows that the two vaccines under consideration (BNT162b2 [Pfizer] and ChAdOx1nCoV-19 [Oxford-AstraZeneca]) have a good safety profile and a low risk of epilepsy worsening among a cohort of people with epilkepsy in Kuwait.

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