Emergent peer-reviewed studies have highlighted the occurrence of neuromyelitis optica after COVID-19 vaccinations, suggesting that the autoimmune disease may be occurring as a vaccine adverse event.
The studies’ general findings indicate an occurrence of neuromyelitis optica (NMO) in healthy individuals within around two weeks after Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca vaccines. In patients already affected by the disease or a similar neurological autoimmune disease such as multiple sclerosis, an exacerbation of symptoms or relapse was observed.
So far, at least six cases of NMO occurring after COVID-19 vaccination have been reported in case studies around the world. Though some individuals made a full recovery, some were discharged with long-term medications or unresolved symptoms.
Neuromyelitis optica is a rare autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the spinal cord and the nerves in the eyes. Though there is no cure, treatment can prevent future relapses that will do further damage to nerves.
While the cause of the disease is unknown, it is usually triggered by an infection or another autoimmune disease. It can affect anyone at any age, though it is more common in women than in men.
The 5-year survival rate for single attack NMO is 90 percent if treated, and for relapsing (more than one attack) NMO, it is nearly 70 percent.
Symptoms include pain in the eyes, loss of vision, paralysis, weakness or pain in the arms and legs, bladder and bowel problems as well as uncontrollable vomiting and hiccups.
Adverse events are medical occurrences, generally developing within 28 days after vaccination. According to the World Health Organization, “any untoward medical occurrence which follows immunization,” even one not caused by the vaccine, would be considered an adverse event.
Neuromyelitis Optica Occurring After Pfizer Vaccine
Two studies, one in Turkey and one in Germany suggested that the Pfizer vaccination may have been the trigger for the NMO disorder. The two women affected developed NMO symptoms within 24 hours and 23 days, respectively, after getting the vaccine.
In the Turkish study, a 43-year-old, previously healthy woman developed impaired vision 24 hours after the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
A month after treatment she experienced a second attack, with pain, increased sensation, and tingling on the right side of her body, muscle weakness, and urinary retention.
The doctors diagnosed her with NMO “possibly triggered by the administration of the COVID-19 mRNA-BNT162b2 vaccine.” She made a near-complete recovery and was put on long-term monoclonal antibody treatment.
The German study examined a 68-year-old woman, who had lived with suspected multiple sclerosis for many years, the primary symptom being mild leg paralysis. After earlier receiving tetanus and pneumococcal vaccines, she had suffered a loss of mobility in her legs, which was treated successfully. However, 23 days after receiving the first Pfizer dose in May 2021, her symptoms were severely exacerbated. She lost the ability to walk and experienced a lack of bladder and bowel control.
The woman declined the second dose of the vaccine and there was no relapse of symptoms.
Neuromyelitis Optica Occurring After Moderna Vaccines
The two Moderna studies both conducted in the United States also involved women. The first patient was a healthy 19 year old; the second was 46 years old with a medical history of vitamin B deficiency. Both showed symptoms within 15 and 2 days of getting the first dose of the vaccine respectively.
The 19-year-old woman had severe weakness in her arms and legs and urinary incontinence after receiving the Moderna vaccine.
After receiving the first dose of the vaccine, the 46-year-old woman suffered weakness in her upper and lower extremities, urinary retention, and decreased sensation, as well as “constant, shooting, 10 out of 10 upper back pain.” Though her lower limb weakness and urinary retention were resolved, the report indicated that the decreased sensation may have persisted.
Neuromyelitis Optica Occurring After AstraZeneca Vaccines
In Thailand and Brazil, studies detailed adverse reactions after the AstraZeneca vaccines. The Thailand study found a previously healthy 46-year-old woman developed right leg weakness and loss of sensation in her right side ten days after the first dose. Though her leg weakness improved, abnormal sensations persisted.
The latter study examined a 62-year-old woman, with stable NMO for 8 years, who saw a relapse 7 days after her first dose, experiencing a loss of vision in the left eye. Her vision recovered in 3 weeks.
The authors of the studies highlighted a need for future research and a “high degree of suspicion” in diagnosis and intervention. As NMO is a rapidly-progressive disease, if untreated, consequences can be severe, with possibilities of disability and death.
AstraZeneca spokesperson Sinead Keller told the Epoch Times that “cases of neuromyelitis have been reported rarely following vaccination,” with no confirmed causal relationship between the vaccination and this “extremely rare event.”
“We continue to work with regulators around the world to closely monitor safety information from all available sources as part of our routine surveillance,” Keller wrote in an email on June 16.
While not all of the cases have concluded a positive link, the findings suggest a possible connection between NMO and COVID-19 vaccination.