Top Doctors Debunk Misleading Information Linking the COVID Vaccine to Herpes

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“A Herpes Infection May Be Linked to the COVID Vaccine” was the headline heard around the world this week. While it sounds alarming, the news has nothing to do with an STI. “Physicians in Israel recently reported that six women with autoimmune disorders developed the painful rash known as herpes zoster, or shingles, 3 to 14 days after they received a first or second dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine,” explains Saddle Brook, NJ dermatologist Dr. Fredric Haberman. “This is not the ‘herpes’ that has such unfounded negative connotations one envisions in the oral and genital herpes infections seen in sexually transmitted infections.”

The vaccine continues to be a hot topic as we learn more about the various options and subsequent side effects that can present themselves along with the series of shots. According to dermatologist Linda C. Honet, MD you shouldn’t worry about this particular one unless you’ve experienced shingles in the past. “There have been a myriad of misconceptions swirling around the COVID vaccine, but the newest one about it directly causing shingles is largely unfounded. First of all, shingles in any scenario is only possible in those who’ve already been infected with chicken pox in the past, and it is usually the distant past like childhood.”

So, what is causing the shingles to reappear? “After the chicken pox blisters go away, the virus hides out in nerves, ready for a potential reappearance years or decades later as shingles,” explains Dr. Haberman. “Some outbreaks have been linked to stress, particularly during a pandemic. But it’s still unclear whether the vaccine caused the cases of herpes zoster.”

Does this mean you should hold off getting the vaccine? No, says Dr. Honet, who explains that these types of physical responses show that that the immune system is working the way it’s supposed to. “Remember that the COVID vaccine in and of itself, like any other vaccine, has the role to stimulate the immune system, thereby specifically challenging it to turn on against the virus—which is the entire purpose of any vaccine and notably causes stress to the body, both physical and emotional. The stress of the vaccine response, from any vaccine, combined with the stress of having to have a shot in the first place may trigger shingles. However, there is no direct cause or effect here.”

According to reports, Israel has one of the world’s most aggressive vaccination programs, with more than half the population having taken at least one of Pfizer’s two-shot vaccine. With this many vaccines distributed in a country of 4.7 million people, the six reported cases seems like an extremely rare side effect. “The bottom line is that it is more important to get the COVID vaccine than to be worried about possibly getting shingles. Shingles is virtually unable to kill you,” adds Dr. Honet. “However, an infection with COVID certainly can, and even if one survives COVID, the damage to the body and its organs may be alarmingly life-long.”

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