Encephalitis Society COVID-19 Vaccine consensus statement

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

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

2020 was a challenging, and at times heart-breaking year for many people.  At the end of the year however we saw some light at the end of the tunnel. COVID-19 vaccines were developed around the world and launched in many countries with more candidates in the pipeline. 

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

We do not think there is any reason to believe the COVID-19 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 6.67 billion doses of vaccine have been given worldwide (15th October 2021). 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.

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.

Detailed surveillance has shown that there is an extremely small risk of unusual blood clots associated with a low blood platelet count in some younger people who receive the first dose of Oxford/Astra-Zeneca Covid-19. The European Medicines Agency and the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) have therefore recommended that individuals up to 29 years should be offered an alternative vaccine for the first dose. Myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) and Guillain-Barré syndrome (damage to the nerves in the arms and legs) are also very rarely reported side effects.

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 full measures are needed to protect others and stop the spread.

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 6 months after the initial schedule, booster doses are now also being offered to many people. 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 7 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, email [email protected] 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.

We also recorded a podcast with Professor Tom Solomon, CBE about the COVID-19 vaccine and you can view this here.

Other sources of help and information








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