Experts Recommend COVID-19 Vaccines for Patients, Caregivers

Marisa Wexler, MS avatar

by Marisa Wexler, MS |

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COVID-19 vaccines

An international team of experts has recommended that people with Parkinson’s disease and their caregivers receive vaccines for COVID-19.

The recommendations were published in the Journal of Parkinson’s Disease, in a paper titled, “COVID-19 Vaccination for Persons with Parkinson’s Disease: Light at the End of the Tunnel?

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an incalculable impact across the world. While people with Parkinson’s are not thought to be at increased risk of contracting COVID-19, individuals with Parkinson’s — especially those with advanced disease — may be at greater risk of severe disease or death as a result of COVID-19.

Recently, several vaccines for COVID-19 have been authorized for public use in different countries. While these vaccines offer hope, they also have prompted questions and concerns.

“The rapid development and approval of COVID-19 vaccines have created some concerns in the scientific and medical communities, as well as among the general public, in regard to the benefits and risks of these new vaccines,” researchers wrote. “Many physicians have already received phone calls from worried persons with PD [parkinson’s disease] or their families, asking about the safety of COVID-19 vaccination in the specific context of PD and [Parkinson’s treatments].”

The experts discussed the available data for two vaccines — BNT162b2 (Pfizer/BioNTech) and mRNA-1273 (Moderna) — which were among the first approved for widespread use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA). In clinical trials that enrolled tens of thousands of participants, these vaccines have proven effective at preventing severe disease from COVID-19.

“The recent FDA and EMA approval of these vaccines met the high standards required for use authorization after complete data scrutiny and validation, as required in the normal process of a vaccine approval,” the experts wrote. “The process ensures that the efficacy and safety requirements have been met and people can be inoculated because the vaccine benefits outweigh its risks.”

Other vaccines are also in clinical testing, and many results have been favorable. For example, a vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson recently was  authorized for use in the U.S. based on positive clinical trial data.

“Vaccines with proven efficacy and what appears to be a satisfactory safety profile are now hopefully going to significantly contribute to ending the COVID-19 pandemic that has already taken many lives,” the team wrote.

The researchers noted that, at present, there are no available data that specifically tested the use of COVID-19 vaccines in people with Parkinson’s.

“Any specific claims about the efficacy and safety for this specific population therefore have to be made cautiously, and are merely based upon extrapolating the evidence from general elderly populations,” the team wrote.

With these caveats, the team noted that the biological mechanisms of action by which vaccines work are not known to interact with the biological mechanisms that drive disease progression in Parkinson’s. There also is no evidence to suggest that the vaccines would interact with any Parkinson’s treatment. From the clinical trial data that is available, people with Parkinson’s are no more likely than the general population to experience side-effects from the vaccine.

Based on all the available data, “we encourage our community of movement disorder specialists to recommend COVID-19 vaccination with approved vaccines to their patients with PD (or their responsible caregivers), unless there is a specific contraindication,” the researchers wrote.

They added: “This recommendation to both physicians and patients is given because the benefits and risks do not appear to be different than in the general (age-matched) population, while the risk of developing the serious, life-threatening complications of a possible SARS-CoV-2 infection does appear to be higher for persons living with PD, at least among those with more advanced disease.”

The team stressed that the understanding of the efficacy of these vaccines, and of COVID-19 generally, is evolving continuously. As more people are vaccinated, more data can be gathered, allowing a more refined understanding of the risks and benefits.

The team recommended referring to the website of the International Parkinson and Movement Disorder Society for the most up-to-date information and guidance concerning vaccines and Parkinson’s.

The experts also said that, “even after vaccination, it is important that persons with PD continue complying with the public health guidelines to reduce exposure and transmission of COVID-19 as recommended by WHO and CDC.”