NewsJun 28, 2021

Spina Bifida Association Update on the COVID-19 Vaccine – June 2021

COVID-19 Update by Timothy Brei, MD, Spina Bifida Association Medical Director, Professor of Pediatrics, Division of Developmental Medicine, Seattle Children’s Hospital, Seattle, WA

This update provides some of the latest information to help keep people with Spina Bifida and their loved ones healthy.

Although many states and local governments have lifted restrictions put into place during the pandemic, many families and individuals may still have questions about the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines for people who live with Spina Bifida. In this update, the Spina Bifida Association’s Medical Director, Timothy Brei, MD, addresses these concerns. 


Can a person get COVID-19 from the vaccine?

You cannot get COVID-19 from getting the vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that “none of the authorized and recommended COVID-19 vaccines or COVID-19 vaccines currently in development in the United States contain the live virus that causes COVID-19.”


What do we know about the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines?

Much misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines is being spread across the internet. The CDC website has the most accurate, up-to-date, and evidence-based information about the COVID-19 vaccines.

Health care providers and others who have concerns about potential vaccine complications are federally-mandated to report potential vaccine complications. The issue of vaccine safety is being tracked very closely.  The known and potential benefits of COVID-19 vaccination far outweigh the known and potential risks of getting COVID-19 infection.


Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe for people with Spina Bifida?

To date, more than half of the population of the United States has received at least one vaccination for COVID-19. While the COVID-19 vaccine is safe for the vast majority of people with Spina Bifida, there have been a few reports of complications from the vaccines that may have implications for people with Spina Bifida.

  • The Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine has been associated with Thromboembolic Thrombocytopenia Syndrome (TTS). This involves development of blood clots in the legs as well as occurrence of low platelets (cells in the body involved in the clotting process). The number of cases of this that has been reported is still very rare compared to the millions of vaccine doses given, and it is not clear if there are other factors involved which may have contributed to this.

However, as there may be a theoretical risk of a potential for increased blood clots in the legs of people with Spina Bifida who are unable to walk, people may want to consider getting vaccinated with one of the other vaccines.

  • There have also been recent reports of people who have been vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine who have developed myocarditis (inflammation of the heart) or pericarditis (inflammation of the outer lining of the heart). The majority of these cases have occurred in people 16-30 years of age, with the time of onset of symptoms being two to three days after the vaccination. The most common presenting symptom has been shortness of breath. Most have recovered fully.
  • As stated in the February 2021 Spina Bifida Association Update on the COVID-19 Vaccine, neither the Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, nor Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccines contain latex or latex products. Make sure however, that the place that you get your vaccine is using latex-free gloves.

It is important to note that the COVID-19 vaccine is not 100 percent effective in preventing getting COVID-19. There are reports of vaccinated people who have subsequently gotten COVID-19, and there are also reports of hospitalizations and deaths. Nevertheless, the data indicate that the severity of illness is significantly less, and the risks of needing hospitalization or dying are much less than in those who have not been vaccinated.


What about the risk of complications from COVID-19 for people with Spina Bifida?

One study, described in a previous Spina Bifida Association update on the COVID-19 vaccine, identified that people with neurologic conditions, including Spina Bifida, were at increased risk of severe complications after contracting COVID-19 infection, though additional factors such as other coexisting conditions were not described. But this report is still concerning.


Can children get the COVID-19 vaccine?

There are currently vaccines from three manufacturers approved in the United States – Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen.  All three vaccine manufacturers are currently in clinical trials to determine the safety of vaccinating children younger than 12 years of age. In the meantime:

  • The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccines are currently approved for people 18 years of age and above.
  • The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is licensed to be given to people 12 years of age and older.


Now that COVID-19 vaccines are available for children over 12 years, are they safe for children over age 12 who have Spina Bifida?

To date, only the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is licensed to be given to people 12 years of age and older. The vaccine is safe, effective, and recommended for anyone ages 12 or older. No vaccine (or for that matter any medication or medical intervention) is 100 percent safe or effective.


Do children and fully vaccinated people still need to wear masks and practice physical distancing?

Although mask mandates are now being relaxed or eliminated in different parts of the country, it is still recommended that individuals who are going out in public should continue to wear masks, maintain physical distancing and do frequent handwashing in order to prevent further spread of the disease and protect themselves. While vaccination rates have been relatively good to date, the overall vaccination rates are not high enough to achieve herd immunity. Herd immunity is when the vaccination rates in the population are high enough that community spread is decreased.


Do you have more questions?

Ask our National Resource Center by sending an email to [email protected] or calling 202-618-4753.


Additional information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

  1. COVID-19 Vaccines for Children and Teens
  2. Vaccines for COVID-19
  3. Key Things to Know about COVID-19 Vaccines
  4. Myths and Facts about COVID-19 Vaccines
  5. Reporting Adverse Events Following Vaccination