The impact of Covid vaccine on autoimmune disorders in people
As we all know, the Covid 19 pandemic caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 or the SARSCoV-2 virus, hit the globe in early 2020. And then began the urgent search for a vaccine.
The first vaccine was rolled out by Pfizer-BioNTech in the US, followed by Oxford-AstraZeneca. Many other vaccines were then developed like the Russian Sputnik V and the Chinese Sinovac vaccine. In India, we had Covaxin and Covishield.
There were side effects to the vaccine which were reportedly minor like fever and pain. But one of the more serious side effects of the Covid vaccine reported was its impact on autoimmune diseases.
So, what is autoimmune disease? In a normal scenario, your body’s immune system is what helps you to fight off infections and diseases and heal from injuries. But when the opposite happens and your immune system mistakenly attacks the healthy cells in your body, it signifies an autoimmune condition. It generally leads to the destruction of body tissue, abnormal growth of an organ or changes in the organ function.
The areas of the body which are more prone to be affected by autoimmune disorders include blood vessels, connective tissue, joints, muscles, red blood cells, skin and endocrine glands like the thyroid and pancreas. One can even have more than one autoimmune disorder at the same time.
While the exact cause of autoimmune disorders is not known but it is believed that micro-organisms like bacteria, virus or even drugs may trigger changes that confuse the immune system. Autoimmune diseases can be localized or restricted to a specific organ like Addison’s disease, Type 1 diabetes, Crohn’s and Graves disease. It can also be systematic, wherein it affects multiple organs and tissues or even the whole body. Rheumatoid arthritis, MS, scleroderma and lupus are examples of systematic autoimmune disorders.
Most cases of autoimmune disorders are chronic but some of them can be controlled with treatment. In fact the goal of the treatment is basically to reduce symptoms, flare-ups and control the autoimmune process. Some common symptoms of autoimmune disorders include, fatigue, joint pain and swelling, skin problems, abdominal pain or digestive issues, recurring fever and swollen glands.
Currently, there are some 80 types of autoimmune disorders that have been identified by scientists. Here’s a look at some of the more common ones.
- Addison’s disease
- Celiac disease
- Graves’ disease
- Hashimoto thyroiditis
- Multiple sclerosis
- Myasthenia gravis
- Pernicious anemia
- Reactive arthritis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Crohn’s disease
- Type 1 diabetes
- Systemic lupus erythematosus
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
Why has the Covid vaccine impacted autoimmune disorders worsening symptoms?
There were two parts to this discovery linking the Covid-19 vaccine and autoimmune disorders. Firstly, it was found that the Covid vaccine seemed to worsen the symptoms of existing autoimmune conditions in those affected specially with MS (multiple sclerosis) and rheumatoid arthritis.
Secondly, it also saw the new onset of autoimmune diseases, where the symptoms appeared post the vaccine. The risk of flare-ups of existing conditions was also a high possibility. But it was also observed that people who have autoimmune conditions were at a higher risk of getting severe complications from Covid-19.
In fact, the growing evidence between certain Covid-19 vaccines and autoimmune disorders is now becoming a matter of grave concern. Scientists have always been interested in studying the triggering of autoimmune conditions by viral infections and the Covid-19 pandemic gave them a lot of material to work with.
Some explanation could lie in the way the vaccine works itself in the human body once taken. It takes a few weeks after the vaccination for the body to product T-lymphocyte and B-lymphocytes. Therefore, it is very possible that a person could be infected with the virus that cause Covid just before or after the vaccination and then get ill because the vaccine did not have time to provide any protection. I suspect, this is usually the time window that the vaccine plays havoc with the system for those who have an autoimmune disorder. Their bodies find it difficult to recover from this phase, and their flare-up manifest with much more aggression than they normally would have had and then continue to manifest long after.
An entire range of autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, vasculitis, as well as inflammatory bowel disease was detected. The discovery also included neurological conditions such as Guillain-Barre syndrome, transverse myelitis, Bell’s palsy and myocarditis.
According to experts, an autoimmune response plays a crucial role in some post Covid cases where people still continued to experience symptoms of the disease. Also known as long Covid, the study found that people who had lingering symptoms of Covid were more likely to have markers of autoimmune disease in their blood than people who had recovered quickly from the coronavirus or had never gotten infected.
In fact the debate is still on whether long Covid is itself an autoimmune condition or not.
Some of the common symptoms of long Covid include neurological ones like brain fog, headaches, sleep disorders, dizziness, depression or anxiety and change in smell or taste. Respiratory symptoms like shortness of breath, cough, chest pain and palpitations could also show up. Even digestive symptoms like stomach pain and diarrhea can’t be ruled out. Then of course, there is fatigue, joint pain, rashes and even changes in the menstrual cycle for women. These symptoms could last for weeks, months or even years.
Despite the growing evidence linking autoimmune conditions and Covid-19 vaccine, the common consensus seems to be that the benefit of the vaccination outweighs the possible risk of side-effects, which could include experiencing new autoimmune reactions or flare-ups.