What you need to know about Guillain-Barré syndrome and COVID vaccines – .

What you need to know about Guillain-Barré syndrome and COVID vaccines – .

woman holding arm this is a photo but we claim she has weakness or pain from GBS

photo: aijiro (Shutterstock)

Some people who have received the Johnson & Johnson / Janssen COVID-19 vaccine (the single dose vaccine) have developed a disease known as Guillain-Barré syndrome. It has happened quite often that the FDA has asked them to add a note about this to the patient information sheet, but there are still no plans to change the risk / benefit ratio of getting the vaccine. (All COVID vaccines are much safer than receiving actual COVID.)

What is Guillain-Barré syndrome?

First, because it is not obvious: the first word is pronounced “GEE-yawning” and the second rhymes with “hurray”. People sometimes just call it GBS.

GBS is not new: it is already known that it happens to about 1 in 100,000 people every year, and 60 to 80% of cases result from a bacterial or viral illness, such as the flu or food poisoning, according to GBS-CIDP International Foundation. GBS is also a known and rare side effect of the flu vaccine, although you are more likely to get GBS from the actual flu than from the flu shot.

In GBS, the immune system attacks the isolation of our nerve cells. (If you think of the rubber coating around an electrical wire, each of our long, lean nerve cells is like that wire, and there are cells full of an insulating substance called myelin surrounding it.) As a result, people may have weakness or numbness in their legs, or nerve problems in other parts of the body that could include difficulty breathing or moving facial muscles.

Guillain-Barré is usually not fatal or permanent, but it can vary. According to the GBS-CIDP foundation, 90% of patients go through the acute phase of the disease within four weeks. During this phase, there are treatments that can limit the amount of nerve damage that occurs.

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After the acute phase, it takes time to regain strength and nerve function, perhaps months to years. Most people make a full recovery, but in some cases people may end up with weakness, pain, or fatigue that never goes away completely.

GBS may be a rare side effect of a COVID vaccine

The CDC and the FDA have noticed several cases of GBS appearing in VAERS, the database that allows anyone to submit reports of possible vaccine-related adverse events. This is the same database that anti-vaccine campaigners will mine for reports of deaths or other frightening diseases; the information it contains is not verified. But when a worrying symptom appears often enough, the CDC seeks to investigate the reports.

This is also how we discovered blood clots severe enough to warrant a break in administering the J&J vaccine this spring. (The next time you see someone suggesting that death or serious illness is being ignored in VAERS, remember this. Reports of serious side effects that actually resist investigation are taken seriously.)

The FDA added this information to the information sheet administered with the J&J vaccine:

Guillain Barré syndrome (a neurological disorder in which the body’s immune system damages nerve cells, causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis) has occurred in some people who have received the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine. In most of these people, symptoms started within 42 days of receiving the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine. The likelihood of this happening is very low. You should see a doctor immediately if you develop any of the following symptoms after receiving the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine:

* Feelings of weakness or tingling, especially in the legs or arms, which get worse and spread to other parts of the body

* Difficulty walking

* Difficulty with facial movements, including speaking, chewing, or swallowing

* Double vision or inability to move eyes

* Difficulty with bladder control or bowel function

Should this change my decision to get vaccinated?

The risk of GBS after receiving the J&J vaccine is still very low, and it is only a little higher than the risk of GBS that you just had as a human being in this world. (Three to five times higher, but that means about three to five people per 100,000 instead of one per 100,000.)

The risks of the J&J vaccine, or any COVID vaccine, are far less than the risks of an actual COVID infection. Almost all COVID deaths in the United States States come from people who have not been vaccinated, so if you are concerned about your health, getting the vaccine is always a better bet than not getting it.


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