Guillain-Barré and Covid Vaccines: What’s Going On?
Aug 02, 2021

NOTE: This post was updated December 20, 2021

You might have seen some recent news reports about Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) and COVID vaccines. Here’s what’s happening and why health experts say the benefits of getting vaccinated still substantially outweigh the risks.

What Is Guillain-Barré Syndrome?

Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is a neurological disorder where the body’s immune system accidentally attacks nerve cells. GBS can range from a mild case of brief weakness to a severe case of paralysis. It affects roughly 3,000-6,000 people a year in the U.S., usually because of a gastrointestinal virus or respiratory illness, such as flu or COVID-19. Although it is a serious condition, most people fully recover from GBS.

What’s the Connection Between GBS and COVID Vaccines?

Cases of GBS have been reported in people in the U.S. after getting the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 vaccine. The cases were flagged through the United States’ intensive vaccine safety monitoring systems and investigated further by health experts.

They found that while GBS is serious, it’s also very rare after vaccination. Data so far show that out of 16.9 million doses, there have been 278 cases reported, primarily among men over the age of 50. Nearly all cases showed up within two weeks after vaccination. Public health officials are continuing to monitor reports of cases.

Quick note: This pattern hasn’t popped up after mRNA vaccines (like those by Pfizer and Moderna). 

Have you read:

Do the Benefits of the J&J Vaccine Still Outweigh the Risks?

Yes. The COVID-19 virus — and all that can come with it — still poses a greater risk overall. Even among those under age 65 (the group most likely to develop GBS or blood clots after getting the J&J COVID vaccine), experts estimate that vaccination will likely still prevent thousands of hospitalizations and save hundreds of lives. 

As cases of COVID-19, related hospitalizations, and deaths continue to rise yet again throughout the U.S., vaccination remains crucial to protecting individuals and their families. Find a COVID-19 vaccine here.

Note: Those with a history of GBS should talk to their doctor about which COVID-19 vaccine is right for them.

What Should I Do If I’ve Been Vaccinated with the J&J vaccine?

Those vaccinated with the J&J vaccine should watch closely for signs and symptoms of GBS, especially within 42 days of vaccination.

The symptoms of GBS include:

  • Weakness or tingling sensations, especially in the legs or arms, that get worse and spread to other parts of the body
  • Difficulty walking
  • Difficulty with facial movements, including speaking, chewing, or swallowing
  • Double vision or inability to move eyes
  • Difficulty with bladder control or bowel function

If you’ve been vaccinated with the J&J vaccine within the past six weeks and experience any of the above symptoms, talk to a doctor right away.

For more information, check out COVID-19 Vaccine Questions & Answers page.  

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