For Karin Bauer, it started a week after her second vaccination against Covid. At first there were only four to five red spots and blisters on the side of the stomach. After that, the spots spread towards the navel and back. It was really annoying when the pimples started to itch. And burn if it touches the edge. As she also felt tired and had a fever, she went to the doctor. The diagnosis was shingles, the therapy was ointment and antivirals. A month later, the last stain was gone.
Bauer, whose real name is different but does not want to appear in the newspaper with her real name, is 51 years old. It is actually a very young age for the appearance of shingles, as the disease is called by experts. Most people with such problems are in their 60s. Vaccination to protect against the disease is recommended by Stiko only from this age.
When blisters appear in younger people, it is usually in those whose immune systems are no longer able to defend themselves properly, for example due to cancer. Reason: the disease is caused by the varicella-zoster virus. It usually enters the body in childhood, which manifests itself as chicken pox. The virus is then kept under control by immune cells and settles in nerve cells. There it falls into a kind of hibernation.
If the immune system is later weakened by drugs or the aging process, this gives the pathogen a chance to break out and cause shingles symptoms along the nerve pathways. Provided he is awakened from deep sleep by stress or some other signal.
Shingles patients vaccinated against Covid are 46 years old on average
Karin Bauer is not an isolated case. Dermatologist Esther Freeman of Harvard Medical School noticed at the beginning of the year: Since the beginning of the vaccination campaign against Covid, a remarkable number of young patients with shingles have been showing up in doctor’s offices. The average age of vaccinated people is 46 years, which is significantly less than the age of people who avoid injections, she said in a specialized newspaper. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology reported.
Other scientists have also expressed suspicion that the corona vaccine can sometimes cause shingles. The most convincing evidence was provided by a study in a professional journal from September of last year New England Journal of Medicine. Analyzing the medical records of almost 900,000 expatriates, Israeli scientists calculated that out of 100,000 vaccinated people, around 16 had to count on the occurrence of shingles.
However, other studies have not found such an accumulation of herpes zoster cases. The latest all-clear comes from researchers at the University of California and was published Wednesday afternoon. Ophthalmologist Nisha Acharya and her team evaluated how often people visit the doctor in the first month after the covid herpes zoster vaccination. Not more often than the average American, is the result of an analysis of treatment data from approximately two million US citizens. Germany’s Paul Ehrlich Institute also found no sign of such a side effect in its own analysis, but left the question of details unanswered at press time.
“I don’t think there is a causal link between vaccination and shingles,” says Hartmut Hengel after reading Nisha Acharya’s work. He heads the consultation laboratory for varicella-zoster viruses at the Institute of Virology at the University Hospital Freiburg. Even molecular biologist Henri-Jacques Delecluse, who studies herpes viruses at the German Cancer Research Center, does not believe that vaccination could weaken the immune system so much that it would no longer be able to keep chickenpox at bay. If there was such a side effect of the vaccination, the symptoms should actually be much more pronounced, he says. Because in people with severe immune problems, much larger areas of the skin are affected than in classic shingles, sometimes even the mucous membranes of the mouth or organs.
Theoretically conceivable: A syringe could awaken the virus
But shingles, says Delecluse, can occur even in people with completely healthy immune systems. Because sometimes all it takes is a wake-up call for the virus to trigger these symptoms. And in theory, it can also represent a vaccination against Covid. The vaccine stimulates immune cells, among other things, through so-called toll-like receptors. And, according to the scientist, they are directly involved in the activation of varicella-zoster viruses. Studies on the potential vaccine side effect of herpes zoster continue to be conflicting, but one can already say, “If there is such an association, the problem will certainly be very rare.”
This hypothesis is supported by the observation that true corona infection also appears to promote the development of shingles. It’s reassuring: If the immune system is intact, symptoms are usually mild in both cases. This should in no way prevent you from seeing a doctor with the corresponding symptoms. Because shingles can be treated very well in its early stages. In addition, early therapy reduces the risk of long-term complications.