Herpes Zoster May Be a Risk of COVID-19 Vaccination for Immunocompromised

Herpes Zoster May Be a Risk of  COVID-19 Vaccination for Immunocompromised

Story Highlights

  • Immunosuppressed patients were not included in vaccine trials prior to the the FDA granting three vaccine manufacturers an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to distribute experimental COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S., so safety data are not available for immunosuppressed populations.
  • Researchers at two medical centers in Israel evaluated the post-vaccination side effects in 491 patients with pre-existing autoimmune inflammatory rheumatic diseases (AIIRD) and 91 controls.
  • Six patients from the AIIRD group developed herpes zoster (also known as shingles), a reactivation of the varicella zoster virus that causes chickenpox and usually remains dormant in the system after recovery from chickenpox infection. There were no cases in the control group.

An observational study conducted in Israel has revealed a potential risk for herpes zoster activation following vaccination with Pfizer’s experimental mRNA COVID-19 vaccine BNT162b2.1 2 Herpes zoster, commonly known as shingles, is caused by reactivation of the varicella zoster virus that causes chickenpox. After recovery from natural chickenpox infection or vaccination with the live attenuated virus vaccine Zostavax® (which has now been discontinued in the U.S.),3 the virus continues to circulate in the body, where it likely remains dormant for life.

Varicella Zoster (Chickenpox) Virus Can Be Reactivated Years Later

However, the dormant varicella zoster virus can be reactivated years later, manifesting as herpes zoster or shingles, a painful rash with blisters that generally develops along one side of the face or torso.4 5 It has not been established what causes the virus to reactivate, but several potential triggers have been identified, including re-exposure to the varicella zoster virus by coming in close contract with someone infected with chickenpox, acute or chronic diseases or infections, some medications, and emotional or physical stress.6

Typically, the rash and blisters associated with herpes zoster clear up in a week or two, but more serious repercussions such as post-herpetic neuralgia (nerve pain) can persist for months or years.  Other rare complications such as eye involvement leading to blindness, can be permanently debilitating.7

No COVID-19 Vaccine Safety Data in Those With Autoimmune Conditions

The safety profile of COVID-19 vaccination has not been fully assessed in patients with pre-existing autoimmune inflammatory rheumatic diseases (AIIRD) because immunosuppressed people were not included in studies before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted three vaccine manufacturers an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to distribute the experimental COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. To evaluate the effects of COVID-19 vaccination on that population, researchers from two medical centers, the Tel Aviv Medical Center and the Carmel Medical Center in Haifa, studied post-vaccination adverse effects in 590 subjects, 491 with AIIRD and 99 controls.8

All six occurrences of symptomatic herpes zoster occurred in the AIIERD cohort (6 of 491, or 1.2 percent), and there were no cases in the control group. Although herpes zoster generally affects people older than 50, half of the six affected women in the study group were much younger (ages of the patients were 36, 38, 44, 56, 59 and 61) and all had stable AIIRD (rheumatoid arthritis in four cases, Sjogren’s syndrome in one and and undifferentiated connective disease in the sixth). One patient had previously been vaccinated against shingles. 9

According to Victoria Furer, MD, lead author of the Israeli study, the development of herpes zoster following COVID-19 shots among adults suffering with AIIRD was unexpected. The relatively young ages of the study subjects and the fact that most of them had mild autoimmune disease requiring little or no treatment meant that, “they should not have been at increased risk for developing herpes zoster.”10

Symptoms developed soon after the first vaccine dose in five cases and after the second dose in the sixth. One rheumatoid arthritis patient developed herpes zoster ophthalmicus without corneal involvement. All others had mild symptoms. Four of the five subjects who had only had one vaccine dose before developing herpes zoster symptoms completed the second dose with no further reactions, and one subject refused the second dose.11 12

Link Between COVID-19 Vaccine and Shingles Previously Dismissed

A possible association between COVID-19 vaccination and herpes zoster had previously been speculated about in the press, although infectious disease professionals denied there was any evidence of a connection.13 Dr. Furer said that, since the study findings were published in the peer-reviewed Rheumatology journal on April 12,14 she has “received emails from patients around the world that [sic] got [herpes zoster] after the vaccine…It seems that the reason is that there is some association.”15

Dr. Furer added that, while it is not yet clear whether the vaccine caused the shingles, “We can say it might be a trigger in some patients.” She advised that further research is needed and suggested that, “one implication could be that patients with autoimmune inflammatory rheumatic diseases be encouraged to get vaccinated against herpes zoster before getting their COVID-19 shot.”16


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Click here to view References:

1 Furer V, Zisman D, Kibari A, et al. Herpes Zoster Following BNT162b2 Mrna Covid-19 Vaccination In Patients With Autoimmune Inflammatory Rheumatic Diseases: A Case Series. Rheumatology Apr. 12, 2021.
2 Walsh N. New Side Effect From mRNA COVID Vaccines? MedPage Today Apr. 15, 2021.
3 National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, Division of Viral Diseases.  What Everyone Should Know about Zostavax. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Oct. 5, 2020.
4 National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, Division of Viral Diseases.  Shingles (Herpes Zoster), Signs and Symptoms. CDC July 1, 2019.
5 Raines K. Chickenpox Vaccine May Increase Shingles Risk. The Vaccine Reaction Apr. 26, 2016.
6 Janniger CK, Elston DM, et al. Herpes Zoster. Medscape Feb. 11, 2021.
7 National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, Division of Viral Diseases.  Complications of Shingles. CDC July 1, 2019.
8 Furer V, Zisman D, Kibari A, et al. Herpes Zoster Following BNT162b2 Mrna Covid-19 Vaccination In Patients With Autoimmune Inflammatory Rheumatic Diseases: A Case Series. Rheumatology Apr. 12, 2021.
9 Walsh N. New Side Effect From mRNA COVID Vaccines? MedPage Today Apr. 15, 2021.
10 Jaffe-Hoffman M. New Vaccine Side Effect? In Israel, Six People Develop Herpes Zoster.
11 Furer V, Zisman D, Kibari A, et al. Herpes Zoster Following BNT162b2 Mrna Covid-19 Vaccination In Patients With Autoimmune Inflammatory Rheumatic Diseases: A Case Series. Rheumatology Apr. 12, 2021.
12 Walsh N. New Side Effect From mRNA COVID Vaccines? MedPage Today Apr. 15, 2021.
13 Doheny K. Experts Debunk COVID-19 Vaccine-Shingles Link. WebMD Feb. 9, 2021.
14 Furer V, Zisman D, Kibari A, et al. Herpes Zoster Following BNT162b2 Mrna Covid-19 Vaccination In Patients With Autoimmune Inflammatory Rheumatic Diseases: A Case Series. Rheumatology Apr. 12, 2021.
15 Salo J. Herpes Infection Possibly Linked To COVID-19 Vaccine, Study Says. New York Post Apr. 20, 2021.
16 Ibid.

9 Responses to "Herpes Zoster May Be a Risk of COVID-19 Vaccination for Immunocompromised"

  1. Marpessa Hennink   May 3, 2021 at 4:43 pm

    Herpes Zoster, once only afflicting senior citizens, has been on the rise in much younger people since decades! I got my first bout in my early 30s and am convinced that’s because we don’t come in contact with kids with chicken pox anymore which could boost the immune system of those adults who acquired natural immunity after their own bout of this once deemed common childhood disease. 10 years ago I was offers a shingles jab which I courteously declined.

    Reply
  2. Former NIH Researcher   May 3, 2021 at 5:11 pm

    This is the reason why the phase 3 testing is supposed to finish in 2023, to give time for slow side effects to be discovered. More and more are emerging. The most scary is early onset dementia and ALS from prion disease that can take years to develop. Why will anybody take this risk to avoid a flu?

    Reply
  3. Natasa   May 4, 2021 at 1:50 am

    Is the signature involved with the vaccine, and what is consent for? Logically thinking, if I’m not mistaken, vaccines are emergency approved (which in my opinion they are still experimental) wouldn’t consent than mean that I have to consent on experimental agreement?
    No thanks!

    Reply
  4. Natasa   May 4, 2021 at 2:43 am

    I heard from my doctor that over 90 percent of ppl have herpes but in some activated. Maybe if u didn’t have chicken pox u r more prone to develop herpes but that than doesn’t have anything to do with vaccines! ( even though very interesting, and for me believable theory)I have visible herpes and few times a year I have to medicate myself to prevent it, and I’m also immunocompromised, not to mention I’ve never had chicken pox.

    Reply
  5. Debbie   May 4, 2021 at 1:55 pm

    Regarding natural immunity to chicken pox, my mother had a very severe case of chicken pox when she was seven-years-old. I was born less than ten years later when my mother was barely 17. When chicken pox was going around my neighborhood, I was sent to play with my infected friends because back then it was thought best to get it over with while young. I couldn’t catch it. I had natural immunity. Interestingly, my oldest child also had some natural immunity. When chicken pox went around his school he had a very mild case and so did I in that I got one pox on my forehead. Neither one of us felt sick. So for that reason and the fact that my youngest child (born in 1994) had the chicken pox vaccination and was vaccinated more than anyone else in the family was always my sickliest child. Her immune system has always been weak. She was the child who came down with strep throat five times a year, was prone to bronchitis whenever she caught a cold and had allergic reactions to food, insect venom and so on. So, I am in no hurry to take this experimental “vaccination” for that reason and many other reasons I will not go into here.

    Reply
  6. Mary J Nelson   May 4, 2021 at 7:31 pm

    I got chicken pox at about age 33. I am now 82. I have had no recurrence and had NO vaccines at all.

    I will do my best to keep it at no vaccines.

    Reply
  7. Guineapignot   May 5, 2021 at 8:50 am

    That is a good point, our natural immunity comes from exposure, and coccooning us from any exposure to anything, supposedly through masking and social distancing, may also be harming our natural immunity as well as our ‘herd immunity,’ They say we didn’t get the regular flu this last year. And while the death rate was mostly all diagnosed as COVID, the number of people dying was not significantly different, just the attriibution of death. It has also been noted that death after the COVID shot is attributed to COVID, as in they died from COVID in spite of the shot, rather than they died due to complications from the shot.

    Reply
  8. sally   May 10, 2021 at 1:22 pm

    The only flu shot I ever got caused shingles. I was sick for 12 weeks. My hair never came back in and my forehead is still numb. The worst part was that for weeks, no one was sure if I would loose the sight in my right eye. I spent weeks going to the eye specialist and applying meds around the clock. I was told by both my Doctor and the eye specialist that the flu shot DID trigger the shingles attack. I have never been that sick or that scare in my life.

    Reply
  9. Worried for my children   August 16, 2021 at 7:28 pm

    Can your shingles be triggered by spending time around people who received the covid “vaccine”? Back in March I was feeling healthy and rested. I walked daily, took vitamins, was not upset about anything, no deaths, no family or work problems. I was way less stressed than I had been a year earlier in 2020, but no shingles then. Then for two days in a row, I visited a person who had just been given the jab. One day a friend, the next day my mother. The third day I came down with shingles. When the pain started, I thought I had pulled a muscle, then soon I began to worry that it was a pinched nerve in my back. When the rash came up, I thought it was a rub from my sweater…until it spread down my arm. And when I went to my dr for treatment, the physician assistant said they had been seeing a lot of shingles cases, and in people in their 20s and 30s. I was shocked! When I was growing up, shingles was a disease old people got. I do not mean people in their 50s, I mean those in 70s 80s. We live in very strange days, nothing is as it was even a few years ago, much less so half century ago.

    Reply

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