Encephalitis Society COVID-19 Vaccine Consensus Statement

First published 29th January 2021. Updated 7th April 2021; 15th October 2021; 7th October 2022

Information is changing at a fast pace in relation to COVID-19 so in addition to reading this statement we encourage you to visit the links at the end of this document for the latest developments.

Developed in collaboration with our Scientific Advisory Panel

The pandemic has been challenging, and at times heart-breaking year for many people. However, the COVID-19 vaccines developed around the world and launched in many countries have played a critical role in controlling the pandemic.

But what does this mean for people who have been affected by encephalitis? Our Encephalitis Society Scientific Advisory Panel have approved the following consensus statement.

General risks

There is a range of different vaccines available in different countries around the world. There is no evidence to suggest that any of the vaccines will exacerbate encephalitis, the after-effects of encephalitis, provoke a relapse, or make encephalitis related treatment ineffective. This is based on what we know about the way these vaccines work, high-quality evidence from studies of other vaccines, detailed clinical studies of the vaccines and surveillance data after more than 12.8 billion doses of vaccine have been given worldwide (7th October 2022). There is nothing to suggest any COVID-19 vaccine will be dangerous for people who have had encephalitis, including those currently or recently on immunosuppressive treatments. Furthermore, none of the leading COVID-19 candidate vaccines are ‘live’ – meaning they do not contain any virus capable of causing infection. However, there is lots of evidence to suggest that like the general population, those have had encephalitis previously, will benefit from vaccination, because it greatly reduced the chance of developing severe COVID-19 disease

Vaccine confidence

We are concerned that there are some people around the world who are reluctant to get vaccinated. We accept that people can be concerned about their health. However, we are also conscious that some concerns about vaccine safety are fuelled by fake news and information which is not evidence-based.

We also recognise that no medical intervention is completely risk-free but in the case of vaccinations it is important to understand that science and history have demonstrated that the significant benefits outweigh the very small, occasional risk.

Having the majority of the population immunised against COVID-19 is critical to reduce deaths, illness and disability caused by the virus, and in helping us all to be able to return to some kind of normality.

Other important points

For the current vaccines, there is significant protection from a single dose, and further doses offer greater protection. You are therefore encouraged to complete the vaccine schedule and receive additional doses, as offered.

We would particularly emphasise that it takes some time (up to a month) after vaccination to achieve immunity, so it is crucial to maintain precautions after initial vaccination. In addition, although vaccination protects you, it does not stop transmission, so you may need to take additional measures to protect those who are especially vulnerable.

For most people the initial vaccination schedule is with two doses; however, for some people with severely compromised immune systems a third dose is offered as part of the initial immunisation schedule. Approximately six months after the initial schedule, booster doses are offered to many people; in addition, some have a seasonal (autumn) booster. The booster Covid-19 vaccine may be a different type from the original vaccine.

Although the recommendation used to be for a gap of at least seven days between getting the COVID-19 vaccine and the flu vaccine, new studies show it is safe and effective to give the two together.

You should only take any vaccine when you are well.

People that are on the clinically extremely vulnerable list should continue to take extra precautions to protect themselves from catching the virus.

If you have had encephalitis or are on treatments related to your encephalitis (for example immunosuppressive treatments) and are concerned, you should speak with the medical team involved in your care.

How the Encephalitis Society can help

We are here for you. If you are worried and want to chat to someone, call our support line on +44 (0) 1653 699599 or use our Chat Online button on the website www.encephalitis.info.

We are unable to provide clinical advice to individuals in respect of the vaccine and we recommend you discuss your individual health circumstances with the medical professionals involved in your case, or with your primary or general practitioner or physician.

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