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Florian P. Thomas, MD, MA, PhD, MSc,

Important communication from Florian P. Thomas, MD, MA, PhD, MSc, Director, HNF Center of Excellence, Hackensack University Medical Center, Founding Chair & Professor, Department of Neurology, Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine

COVID-19 Vaccine and Charcot-Marie-Tooth

People across the country are getting excited at the prospect that the COVID vaccines will bring, over time, an end to a pandemic that has caused incredible suffering for so many and has disrupted the lives of all of us. As of today, two vaccines, produced by Pfizer-BioNTech & by Moderna, have FDA approval in the US.

With tens of thousands of people having already received one of the vaccines in development, they have been shown to be quite safe & to effectively reduce the risk of falling ill with COVID-19.  While protection starts at about 10 days after 1st dose, it reaches maximal levels only about a week after the 2nd dose (given 3 weeks after the 1st dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech product and 4 weeks after the 1st dose of the Moderna product). The 2nd dose must be from the same company as the 1st.

Importantly, at this point we know that the vaccines protect people from getting ill with COVID. But the virus may still multiply in our respiratory tract and be breathed or sneezed out and infect others. While this specific issue remains under investigation, we need to consider that we may spread the virus even after a vaccination; and therefore, it is essential to keep wearing a mask.

Like with most vaccinations, people may experience fatigue, fever, body aches, headache and soreness at the injection site for a few days, especially after the 2nd dose. However, such side effects appear to happen more often than with the flu shot. As you consider whether to get the shot, you should get your doctor’s advice as to the risk of more serious side effects for you. Particularly, if you have experienced severe allergies before, e.g., anaphylaxis, you should consult your doctor about how to safely get the vaccine.

In its approvals, FDA did not identify any pre-existing conditions as contraindications to the vaccines. While we have no data from the clinical trials on the safety & efficacy of either vaccine in people with CMT, there is no evidence for safety issues specific to people with CMT.

As with all new medical approvals, vaccine safety is being monitored to rapidly detect any safety issues through a new smartphone-based tool, which per the Centers for Disease Control website uses text messaging and web surveys to provide health check-ins after a COVID vaccination. It allows people to quickly tell the CDC of any vaccine side effects. Depending on your answers, someone from CDC may call to check on you and get more information. And you will be reminded when it is time to receive your 2nd dose.

With most vaccines very rare complications can occur such as seizures & Guillain-Barré syndrome. But millions of people get vaccinated every year with no ill effects. And we know that vaccinations save many many lives. Clearly the risk of becoming seriously ill with COVID or dying from it is vastly greater than the risk of complications from the vaccine.