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Fact Check-There is no evidence connecting COVID-19 vaccines to Stevens-Johnson Syndrome

Social media posts have warned against taking a COVID-19 vaccine due to the risk of developing a rare disorder called Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (SJS). However, there is no evidence linking approved COVID-19 vaccines to SJS.

The claims have circulated online since December 2020, when vaccine rollouts first began, and can be traced back to a Facebook comment from a user who describes herself as a doctor who “left medicine” for holistic practice more than 20 years ago (here). The same user explains on YouTube that she chose to pursue holistic medicine after she “cured herself” of epilepsy (here).

In her Facebook comment (archive.is/zqeIo), which has been copied and shared by numerous other accounts (here, here, here, here, here and here), the doctor tells other users to avoid getting a COVID vaccination after hearing of an alleged effect. She writes: “Don’t take the COvid (sic) vaccine. My friend’s daughter is a physician’s assistant at a New York hospital. One of her fellow PA’s was vaccinated with the new COvid vaccine and had an extreme allergic reaction called Stevens Johnson Syndrome.

“It makes all the skin on your body peel off and makes you go blind. She looks like a burn victim and is now in the burn unit with her eyes taped shut and they don’t know if she will survive. If she does, she will likely be blind in at least one eye (if not both) and have to go through numerous skin graft surgeries and be scarred all over her body for life.”

Several accounts that reshared the comment have also included photos (here, here, and here). However, these pictures are all old and do not show a person after they have received a COVID-19 vaccine. The original photos can be found (here and here).

There is also no evidence to suggest approved COVID-19 vaccines pose a risk of developing SJS.

According to a team of global health scientists at the Meedan Digital Health Lab, SJS is “a very rare, severe disorder of membranes in skin and mucous. It's typically a reaction that starts with flu-like symptoms, followed by a painful rash that commonly spreads, blisters, and sheds. A more severe form of SJS is toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN), which involves reactions on more than 30% of the skin surface and extensive damage to the mucous membranes” (here).

The team explained that the most common cause of SJS is pneumonia in children and medications in adults, adding: “There is currently no evidence to suggest that the main COVID-19 vaccines (Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca) are associated with SJS or TEN. Receiving a vaccine is safer overall than potentially being infected with COVID-19. In fact, COVID-19 infection has been associated with negative skin conditions.” 

In response to these particular social media posts, the experts said: “Some misinformation has been spreading about the risks of SJS from the COVID-19 vaccines without evidence. Some of these claims may stem from the fact that there have been a small number of case reports on COVID-19 patients, who may have developed SJS after certain vaccinations (for example, the flu vaccine) without known exposure to other medications that are associated with SJS. 

“In a systematic review examining a potential association between SJS and vaccination, no significant association was found. Though SJS may be a possible rare adverse reaction to certain vaccines, vaccination is widely considered safe and important for saving lives.” 

A spokesperson for the Stevens-Johnson Syndrome Foundation also told Reuters via email: “We have not heard of any reported cases of SJS (linked) to the COVID-19 vaccination” (sjsupport.org/?page_id=428).  

The foundation website has posted information from Vanderbilt University Medical Center, which encourages those who have suffered with SJS/TEN in the past to get vaccinated against COVID-19. It says: “It is understandable that survivors of SJS/TEN would be hesitant to take drugs and vaccines even outside the drug that was implicated in their reaction given the randomness and severity of the disease. However, those who have recently experienced SJS/TEN and survivors of SJS/TEN can be reassured that receiving the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine is a safer option than natural infection (sjsupport.org/?p=2183).” 

VERDICT 

False. There is no evidence that approved COVID-19 vaccines cause Stevens-Johnson Syndrome. The illness is rare, and experts say it is safer to be vaccinated than risk potentially being infected with the coronavirus.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .   

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