Herpes zoster related hospitalization after inactivated (CoronaVac) and mRNA (BNT162b2) SARS-CoV-2 vaccination: A self-controlled case series and nested case-control study

Eric Yuk Fai Wan, Celine Sze Ling Chui, Yuan Wang, Vanessa Wai Sei Ng, Vincent Ka Chun Yan, Francisco Tsz Tsun Lai, Xue Li, Carlos King Ho Wong, Esther Wai Yin Chan, Christina Sze Man Wong, Kathy Sze Man Leung, Michael Yuxuan Ni, Sophie Alessandra Valkenburg, Joseph Sriyal Malik Peiris, Joseph Tsz Kei Wu, Benjamin John Cowling, Darren M Ashcroft, Ivan Fan Ngai Hung, Gabriel Matthew Leung, Ian Chi Kei Wong

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Background: Stimulation of immunity by vaccination may elicit adverse events. There is currently inconclusive evidence on the relationship between herpes zoster related hospitalization and COVID-19 vaccination. This study aimed to evaluate the effect of inactivated virus (CoronaVac, Sinovac) and mRNA (BNT162b2, BioNTech/Fosun Pharma) COVID-19 vaccine on the risk of herpes zoster related hospitalization.

Methods: Self-controlled case series (SCCS) analysis was conducted using the data from the electronic health records in Hospital Authority and COVID-19 vaccination records in the Department of Health in Hong Kong. We conducted the SCCS analysis including patients with a first primary diagnosis of herpes zoster in the hospital inpatient setting between February 23 and July 31, 2021. A confirmatory analysis by nested case-control method was also conducted. Each herpes zoster case was randomly matched with ten controls according to sex, age, Charlson comorbidity index, and date of hospital admission. Conditional Poisson regression and logistic regression models were used to assess the potential excess rates of herpes zoster after vaccination.

Findings: From February 23 to July 31, 2021, a total of 16 and 27 patients were identified with a first primary hospital diagnosis of herpes zoster within 28 days after CoronaVac and BNT162b2 vaccinations. The incidence of herpes zoster was 7.9 (95% Confidence interval [CI]: 5.2−11.5) for CoronaVac and 7.1 (95% CI: 4.1−11.5) for BNT162b2 per 1,000,000 doses administered. In SCCS analysis, CoronaVac vaccination was associated with significantly higher risk of herpes zoster within 14 days after first dose (adjusted incidence rate ratio [aIRR]=2.67, 95% CI: 1.08−6.59) but not in other periods afterwards compared to the baseline period. Regarding BNT162b2 vaccination, a significantly increased risk of herpes zoster was observed after first dose up to 14 days after second dose (0-13 days after first
dose: aIRR=5.23, 95% CI: 1.61−17.03; 14−27 days after first dose: aIRR=5.82, 95% CI: 1.62−20.91; 0-13 days after second dose: aIRR=5.14, 95% CI: 1.29−20.47). Using these relative rates, we estimated that there has been an excess of approximately 5 and 7 cases of hospitalization as a result of herpes zoster after every 1,000,000 doses of CoronaVac and BNT162b2 vaccination, respectively. The findings in the nested case control analysis showed similar results.

Interpretation: We identified an increased risk of herpes zoster related hospitalization after CoronaVac and BNT162b2 vaccinations. However, the absolute risks of such adverse event after CoronaVac and BNT162b2 vaccinations were very low. In locations where COVID-19 is prevalent, the protective effects on COVID-19 from vaccinations will greatly outweigh the potential side effects of vaccination.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)100393
JournalThe Lancet Regional Health - Western Pacific
Early online date1 Feb 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2022


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