[Ask Dr Chiu] Understanding COVID-19 Vaccine: Is facial palsy a scary side effect?

[Ask Dr Chiu] Understanding COVID-19 Vaccine: Is facial palsy a scary side effect?

[Ask Dr Chiu] Understanding COVID-19 Vaccine: Is facial palsy a scary side effect?



5  Mins Read

The long waited COVID-19 vaccine will finally be available in Hong Kong coming January. This supposed to be something we all hoped for, but unfortunately, there are now reports that the vaccine could have led to facial palsy. This immediately makes people skeptical and wonder if this could happen to themselves if they take the vaccine.

Indeed, the term facial palsy is really scary. But what exactly is this condition about? Is the impact permanent and long lasting?

The medical term for facial palsy is “Bell’s Palsy”. It is an acute dysfunction of the nerve of the face, causing paralysis of the facial muscle. It usually affects one side of the face only and will lead to facial asymmetry. It will also affect one’s eating, and because the eyelid cannot be closed completely, may also cause damage to the eye.  The taste and hearing may also be affected in some patients.

It must be noted that facial palsy is not stroke, and it does not affect the mobility of other parts of the body. The cause of facial palsy is usually unknown, but most of the time the impact is temporary, ranging from a few days to few weeks. The treatment of facial palsy includes corticosteroids and physiotherapy, while acupuncture was also noted to have some improvement on the condition.


Should we avoid the vaccine to prevent facial palsy?

According to media reports, out of more than 18,000 volunteers who took the vaccine in a trial, there were 4 people who were noted to have facial palsy after receiving the vaccine. This is less than 0.02% occurrence, which in fact was more or less the same rate as compared with the occurrence within the general public. 

This implied that there is no definite cause and effect relationship between receiving the vaccine and facial palsy.

Based on current research, there is no evidence that the vaccine causes facial palsy. With United States, United Kingdom and Canada starting to vaccinate their people, by January 2021, we should have the data of more than 50 million people who received the vaccine to demonstrate whether a causal relationship exist.


There is always a risk with vaccination

Facial palsy no doubt is a scary condition, but it does not mean we should then completely avoid the vaccine. We should in fact adopt a logical and scientific approach and make decision based on objective facts.

We must understand, there is always risks associated with receiving vaccination, and there is also always risks associated with not receiving vaccination. With us in winter, the virus is obviously being more active and there are also currently more cases of mortality that are young and without chronic illnesses. We must therefore evaluate all these evidences carefully to decide what is most suitable for ourselves and our family.