TAMPA, Fla. — Both the CDC and FDA are closely monitoring reports of Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) after getting the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. While cases appear rare, Tampa Bay area health experts explain what to look for and share why getting vaccinated is still important.
The CDC explains GBS is a neurological disorder where the body’s immune system damages nerve cells, causing muscle weakness, or in the most severe cases, paralysis.
“A lot of the first symptoms sometimes you’ll see is tingling because it attacks the coating of your neurons, and it doesn’t let them fire properly,” said USF Health associate professor Dr. Michael Teng.
The Mayo Clinic shares signs and symptoms can include weakness in your legs that spreads to your upper body, difficulty with facial movements, and unsteady walking or inability to walk or climb stairs.
The CDC says reports of the disorder after getting the J&J vaccine in the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), a safety monitoring system, are rare, but it says that it does “likely indicate a small possible risk of this side effect” after getting this vaccine. The CDC says there were around 100 preliminary reports after nearly 13 million doses of J&J have been administered. According to the CDC, most cases were reported in men, many 50 years old and up, and about two weeks after vaccination.
The FDA says of these reports, 95 were serious and required hospitalization, and there was one reported death. On Monday, the FDA announced updates to vaccine recipient and provider fact sheets for the J&J vaccine to include information of an “observed increased risk” of GBS after getting the vaccine.
“It’s been seen in a lot of different viral infections and bacterial infections,” said Teng. “When we had Zika a few years ago, there was an association with Zika virus infection and Guillain-Barre as well.”
The CDC noted about 3,000 to 6,000 people develop the disorder each year in the U.S. and that most people fully recover. The agency also says data doesn’t show a similar pattern with either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.
Some health experts still think the benefits of the vaccine outweigh potential risks.
“Vaccines are your seat belt, so this is to protect you,” said Dr. Teng. “It’s in case you become exposed to the virus, you will have this very good layer of protection against infection, against severe disease.”