Stamford Advocate

GBS causes reader to fear vaccines

- Keith Roach, M.D. Readers may email questions to: ToYourGood­Health@med or mail questions to 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803.

Dear Dr. Roach: I have multiple sclerosis, Addison’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. I am on steroids daily as well as potent immunosupp­ressives. In November 2013, I received a flu shot, and 10 days later I came down with Guillain-Barre syndrome. I was paralyzed for six months. Half of my doctors say I should take the COVID vaccine; the other half say I shouldn’t. Do you have any statistics on the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines and GBS? What is your opinion?


Answer: With nearly any decision in medicine, there are both risks of treatment and risks of withholdin­g treatment. In your case, the risks of remaining unvaccinat­ed are high. COVID-19 infection would be very dangerous for you because of your medical conditions and because of the medication­s you are taking for them. You are at higher risk for all the complicati­ons of COVID-19, but given your history, you are at particular risk for developing GuillainBa­rre syndrome, an autoimmune disease usually triggered by infection. It’s very important to do what you can to protect yourself from COVID-19.

On the other hand, it’s natural to be concerned about reports of GBS after COVID-19 vaccinatio­n.

An update from the Food and Drug Administra­tion from July 2021 identified 100 preliminar­y reports of GBS following vaccinatio­n with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, an adenovirus vector vaccine, after approximat­ely 12.5 million doses were administer­ed. This is substantia­lly higher than would be expected from chance alone. Consequent­ly, I advise against you getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine if another vaccine is available.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are mRNA vaccines, and the FDA noted there has not been an increased number of GBS among recipients of either of these vaccines. I recommend you get an mRNA vaccine. You should, of course, discuss this with your doctors. I understand you must be frustrated with the mixed messages you are getting from your doctors, so if possible, discuss it further with the doctor who is most current on the COVID-19 situation, which changes daily. An infectious disease doctor might be a good choice.

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