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Epilepsy Society’s Medical Director reassures people with epilepsy over Covid-19 vaccine

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Nicola Swanborough

Epilepsy Society’s Medical Director reassures people with epilepsy over Covid-19 vaccine

Epilepsy Society’s Medical Director, Professor Ley Sander has reassured people with epilepsy that they should feel confident in having the new Covid-19 vaccine.

People with epilepsy are included in one of nine at-risk groups for Covid-19, meaning they will be able to access the vaccine as a matter of priority.

However the NHS has warned that due to the size of the vaccine campaign and the logistics in delivering it, it could take several months to roll out to the different groups.

People in each group will be contacted by letter or phone when it is their turn to have the vaccine.

Dr Nikki Kanani, Medical Director of Primary Care, NHSE/I promised. “We will work as fast and as safely as possible and I want to reassure people that we will get to them.”

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been approved for use in the UK by the medicines regulator, the MHRA, and could be available for those at greatest risk from next week.

Importance of getting the vaccine

Professor Sander said that there were no warnings of contraindications or interactions with epilepsy medications for people with the condition and that it was important for those offered the vaccine to make sure they received it.

Read the full Covid Vaccine Q&A from the Department of Health and Social Care

Uptake for vaccines in at-risk groups under the age of 65 is generally around 50 per cent and the Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisation (JCVI) is keen to ensure that all those who are eligible take up the vaccine when contacted.

Dr June Raine, new Head of the MHRA, stressed that the vaccine had undergone substantial clinical trials involving more than 20,000 people and that the results were very robust.

“The vaccine looks like any ordinary vaccine,” she said. “Adverse effects include some soreness and possibly a mild temperature, but these are very short-lived. The Commission on Human Medicines has reported very favourably on the benefits in comparison with the risks.”

She said that there was nothing to suggest any contraindications for people with epilepsy.

Priority groups

Nine priority groups of people considered to be at risk have been identified for the first roll out of the vaccine. Group six includes anyone with epilepsy aged 16-65 years.

The nine groups are as follows:

  1. Residents in a care home for older adults
    Staff working in care homes for older adults
  2. All those 80 years of age and over
    Health and social care workers
  3. All those 75 years of age and over
  4. All those 70 years of age and over
    Clinically extremely vulnerable individuals (not including pregnant women and those under 18 years of age)
  5. All those 65 years of age and over
  6. Adults aged 16 to 65 years in an at-risk group (see above)
  7. All those 60 years of age and over
  8. All those 55 years of age and over
  9. All those 50 years of age and over

People will be vaccinated twice – 21 days apart – and immunity starts seven days after the second dose.

Reassuring news says Professor Sander

Professor Sander continued: “I am pleased to see that epilepsy has been recognised in the priority list for those who should receive the Covid-19 vaccine. This is very reassuring news.

“A high fever is one of the symptoms of Covid-19 and we know that many people experience seizures as a result of high temperatures. Anything that can be done to mitigate this risk is to be welcomed.

“The guidance is also in line with a study reported in the BMJ that identified epilepsy as one of the conditions moderately associated with complications from the Covid virus .

“It is  important though to remember that everyone should continue to safeguard themselves and others by social distancing, wearing a mask and thorough washing and sanitising of hands. These measures cannot be underestimated in helping to protect us from the virus, even after immunity begins.”

Age is biggest risk factor

Andrew Earnshaw, Head of the Secretariat for the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation explained the rationale behind the priority groups with age as the biggest risk factor for Covid-19.

“After the age of 50, the risk of mortality from the virus rises exponentially which is why our programme is aged based,” he said. “Those in the clinically extremely vulnerable group have a risk equivalent to that of a 70-year-old so they will be vaccinated at the same time as this group.

“Those in the other at-risk groups will be vaccinated after the 65-year-olds, according to their risk.”

The MHRA will be actively monitoring the vaccine as it is rolled out to larger and more diverse groups and any side effects should be reported through the regulator’s Yellow Card Scheme.