Serious neurological adverse events following immunization against SARS-CoV-2: a narrative review of the literature

Sara Eslait-Olaciregui, Kevin Llinás-Caballero, David Patiño-Manjarrés, Thomas Urbina-Ariza, Juan Fernando Cediel-Becerra, Camilo Alberto Domínguez-Domínguez

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Amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, massive immunization campaigns became the most promising public health measure. During clinical trials, certain neurological adverse effects following immunization (AEFIs) were observed; however, acceptable safety profiles lead to emergency authorization for the distribution and use of the vaccines. To contribute to pharmacovigilance and lessen the potential negative impact that vaccine hesitancy would have on immunization programs, we conducted a review of the scientific literature concerning the epidemiological data, clinical presentation, and potential mechanisms of these neurological AEFIs. There is some epidemiological evidence linking COVID-19 vaccines to cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, arterial ischemic stroke, convulsive disorder, Guillain–Barré syndrome, facial nerve palsy, and other neurological conditions. Cerebral venous sinus thrombosis has been associated with a thrombotic thrombocytopenia induced by the vaccine, similar to that induced by heparin, which suggests similar pathogenic mechanisms (likely involving antibodies against platelet factor 4, a chemokine released from activated platelets). Arterial ischemic stroke is another thrombotic condition observed among some COVID-19 vaccine recipients. Vaccine-induced convulsive disorder might be the result of structural abnormalities potentially caused by the vaccine or autoimmune mechanisms. Guillain–Barré syndrome and facial nerve palsy may also be linked to the immunization event, possibly due to immune mechanisms such as uncontrolled cytokine release, autoantibody production, or bystander effect. However, these events are mostly uncommon and the evidence for the association with the vaccine is not conclusive. Furthermore, the potential pathophysiological mechanisms remain largely unknown. Nevertheless, neurological AEFIs can be serious, life-threatening or even fatal. In sum, COVID-19 vaccines are generally safe and the risk of neurological AEFIs does not outweigh the benefits of immunization. However, early diagnosis and treatment of neurological AEFIs are of utmost importance, and both health professionals and the public should be aware of these conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalTherapeutic Advances in Drug Safety
StatePublished - Jan 1 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pharmacology (medical)


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