We answer questions that people living with epilepsy and their relatives may be asking about the new coronavirus and the disease COVID-19.
Is the COVID-19 vaccine recommended for people with epilepsy?
Yes, it is. According to the vast majority of experts, the risk of COVID-19 infection and potential complications far outweighs the risk of possible side effects from a COVID-19 vaccine. Billions of people across the world have now been vaccinated, and the effects of the vaccine are being closely examined. There is currently no evidence to suggest that having epilepsy is specifically associated with a higher risk of side effects from a COVID-19 vaccine, including seizures.
As with other vaccines, a fever can develop after a COVID-19 vaccination. This could lower the seizure threshold in some people. In this case, we recommend lowering the body temperature with calf compresses or fever-reducing medication. Interactions between the vaccines and anticonvulsants have not been reported so far.
Before you receive a COVID-19 vaccine, make sure to let your vaccination provider know that you have epilepsy, as well as providing any other important medical information, for example if you have allergies or are taking medication.
It is said that people with pre-existing medical conditions are at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Is epilepsy not one of those conditions?
According to the evidence currently available, people with epilepsy alone are not at risk of more severe symptoms from coronavirus, although this is not the case for those who have additional medical conditions. Nevertheless, everyone should still take measures to avoid infection and should follow the guidelines. These have been translated into many different languages. Protect yourself and others
Do epilepsy medications weaken the immune system, thus putting people at greater risk?
Most people with epilepsy have a normal immune system unless it has been compromised by other medical conditions or treatments. They should make sure they continue to take their medication regularly. Only a small number of treatments weaken the immune system, including ACTH, steroids and immunotherapies, and to a lesser extent phenytoin, phenobarbital and primidone (Mysoline®).
If someone catches COVID-19, will they have more seizures?
Fever can trigger epileptic seizures. Other triggers are stress, anxiety or disrupted sleep caused by worry about the current situation, irregular eating and drinking patterns and not taking medication regularly (e.g. due to vomiting). According to the information we have so far from countries more severely affected by COVID-19, the risk of it causing additional seizures is relatively low.
What should we do if the disease leads to more frequent seizures?
If this happens, ring your doctor and your neurologist, and follow their advice. In this situation it might be advisable to have emergency medication at hand. If a seizure lasts more than 3 minutes and no emergency medication is available, or it has no effect: protect the person having the seizure from being injured and ring 144. First aid during a seizure
My doctor’s appointment has been cancelled. What can I do?
Healthcare institutions might have to postpone non-urgent surgery and treatments. If you need to speak to your doctor urgently, you should be able to arrange a telephone consultation. Otherwise the appointment will have to be postponed to a later date.
Will epilepsy medications continue to be available?
We don’t currently know of any coronavirus-related supply shortages. As a precaution, all prescription drugs are currently being rationed. People with chronic conditions such as epilepsy are allowed to get a two-month supply of their medication. We recommend you do not let your personal supplies run low – make sure you phone up for your next prescription in plenty of time.
Author: Stephan Rüegg; page last updated: January 2022.