Consensus is that available vaccines are safe
Anyone with a compromised immune system has a particularly high risk of getting sick from COVID-19. Vaccination is, therefore, more significant for this group. But very little data exists about coronavirus vaccines for people with autoimmune diseases.
Trials for vaccines for the most part include healthy adults; only recently are drugmakers considering children and those with underlying conditions.
It is widely accepted by health professionals that the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccines far outweigh their risks. This applies to people with autoimmune diseases, too.
Some autoimmune diseases commonly seen in clinical settings in Pakistan include systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, Grave’s disease (hyperthyroidism), celiac disease, diabetes type 1, vitiligo, and multiple sclerosis.
“All the [currently available] vaccines are safe for them,” says Dr Faisal Mahmood, infectious disease specialist at the Aga Khan University Hospital.
Vaccines that the Pakistan government is administering include Sinopharm, Sinovac, CanSino, AstraZeneca, and Pfizer. Private hospitals were earlier offering Russia’s Sputnik V shot for around Rs12,000. A total of 50,000 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine reached Pakistan on March 18.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has asked Russia for help in procuring an additional five million doses of Sputnik V.
The latest guidelines by the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention say that people with autoimmune conditions may receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
“However, they should be aware that no data are currently available on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines for people with autoimmune conditions.”
The United Nations Children’s Fund has fact-checked claims that those with autoimmune conditions should refrain from COVID-19 vaccination.
“Patients with autoimmune diseases, with adequate therapy from their chosen doctor, can receive the vaccine against COVID-19,” says Dr Vladimir Jovanovic, from the Clinical Centre of Montenegro, according to UNICEF.
All patients with neurological conditions, including those that are immune-mediated, can receive COVID-19 vaccines, says Professor Dr Muhammad Wasay Malik, the president of the Neurology Awareness and Research Foundation.
Common autoimmune conditions of the nervous system include multiple sclerosis, autoimmune encephalitis, myelitis, Guillain-Barré syndrome, and myasthenia gravis.
These patients getting the COVID-19 vaccines, however, need to make sure they are not on immunosuppressant medications or steroid therapy, Dr Wasay adds.
The neurology professor admits that more data is needed on coronavirus vaccines for neuro patients.
When it comes to immunocompromised patients, of all the available vaccines in the country, the Pfizer shot is backed by research, Dr Wasay said. But he did not recommend against the other vaccines.
It is important for everyone to get inoculated against COVID-19, he advised, as the disease could have severe manifestations.
“Around 30% of COVID-19 patients develop neurological symptoms,” Dr Wasay stated.
Sleep problems, loss of smell and taste, rash, stroke are the most commonly reported complaints.
Research is still ongoing about neurological conditions and COVID-19, the NARF president said, elaborating that they were working on a national study on the issue.
He allayed concerns on vaccine side effects.
An estimated eight to 10% of those vaccinated have some neurological side effects such as muscle pain or headache.
“But these are short-term. Don’t get alarmed.”
If symptoms persist for weeks consult your doctor, Dr Wasay said.