The Pfizer Covid jab has been linked to Bell’s palsy after a 61-year-old British man suffered facial paralysis after each dose of the vaccine.
In an article in the journal BMJ Case Reports, Dr Abigail Burrows, of Royal Surrey County Hospital, described how the man experienced paralysis to the right side of his face five hours after the first jab.
He attended the emergency department after he was unable to close his left eye properly or move the left side of his forehead and was given a course of steroids. Six weeks later, he suffered paralysis to the left side of his face two days after his second dose, causing him to dribble and have difficulty swallowing.
Although the condition cleared up after a further course of steroids, Dr Burrows advised medics to be on the lookout for the condition in patients who have recently received the jab.
"The occurrence of the episodes immediately after each vaccine dose strongly suggests that the Bell’s palsy was attributed to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, although a causal relationship cannot be established," said Dr Burrows.
Bell’s palsy is facial paralysis and tremors from an unknown cause, and several episodes were reported in clinical trials of the vaccine. Although most cases are not serious, the symptoms can cause significant temporary disability, affecting facial expression and the ability to eat and drink.
Yellow Card data collected by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency has also recorded 313 cases of Bell’s palsy to date that have been linked to the Pfizer jab, as well as 250 cases of facial paralysis.
The agency said the current rate of paralysis after the vaccine is no different from the background rate of what would be expected in such a large vaccination population. However, it is continuing to monitor the situation.
In phase three trials, four cases of facial palsy of unknown cause were reported in volunteers who received the Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA vaccine compared with none in those who received the placebo vaccine, and three cases were reported in volunteers who received the Moderna mRNA vaccine compared with one in the placebo group.
Three cases of facial nerve palsy were also reported in volunteers who received the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine during clinical trials, but there were also three cases in the placebo arm.
In 2004, an influenza vaccine was shown to significantly increase the risk of Bell’s palsy and was discontinued.