Young Hong Kong man describes ordeal of facial paralysis after receiving Covid-19 vaccine
- Wilson Lam, 26, fainted and woke up in hospital with Bell’s palsy after receiving his shot earlier this week
- But health experts stress that no direct link between the temporary condition and vaccines has been established
If Wilson Lam could do it over again, he would not take the Covid-19 vaccine. The 26-year-old Hong Kong resident woke up in hospital after fainting outside a government-run centre where he was inoculated on Wednesday. He was shocked to find much of his face paralysed.
“I could not close my left eye, while my mouth was crooked to the right hand side, so I could only eat most things with my teeth on that side. The situation has not improved so far,” he told the Post in a stiff voice from his hospital bed on Friday.
Lam said health authorities had not drawn a conclusion on whether his case was related to his Sinovac jab; nor has the government approached him to follow up.
“I consider myself an unlucky person,” he said. “If I can choose again, I would not take the vaccine. But I will not advise others whether to take it or not because this is their personal choice.”
Lam is the 12th known resident to experience temporary facial paralysis, a condition known as Bell’s palsy, after receiving a jab. The other sufferers were all men aged between 37 and 86 and who all took the Sinovac shot except for one, who took the other vaccine being distributed in Hong Kong, the German-made BioNTech.
The government lists Bell’s palsy as a rare side effect of BioNTech shots only, while medical experts have found no direct link between the 11 cases and the jabs.
Authorities also reported a 59-year-old man died on Thursday after receiving the BioNTech vaccine. Previously, 10 chronically ill people died after receiving a jab, all but one involving the Sinovac shot. No direct link has been established between the jabs and the fatalities.
Lam received the Sinovac dose after making an online reservation. He said he had no preference for which brand and made his decision based on how close the community centre was to his home.
“I saw there were lots of quotas online for the Sinovac jabs, and thought it would be fast to take the jab, so I booked for a time slot,” he said.
Lam said he arrived at the Tseung Kwan O Sports Centre at around 2.30pm on Wednesday and felt dizzy about 15 minutes after getting the jab. He fainted when he walked out of the centre at around 3pm and was immediately sent to hospital with the help of staff.
Aside from the difficulties with his mouth, he cannot control his left eye. The initial swelling of the surrounding area has gone down but he still cannot close the eyelid. He still feels dizzy and gets pains in his chest.
“I feel worried and scared as unlike some other reported death cases. I have no chronic illnesses. I play soccer, run a lot and consider myself a healthy person,” he said, adding the only illness he had was hives when he was 15 and completely recovered.
“It would be best if the government could tell me why I have such consequences. It greatly affects my livelihood and I do not know when I can recover.”
He said he would seek compensation from the government.
Before the mass inoculations began on February 26, the government set aside HK$1 billion (US$128 million) for an indemnity fund to offer compensation to anyone suffering from serious adverse reactions.
Health authorities said those affected would have two years from the date of getting their first jab to file a claim and would not be barred from making a separate civil claim for compensation, although any court-awarded sum would be reduced by the amount of government payout already received.
Government pandemic adviser Professor David Hui Shu-cheong said no causal relationship between the vaccines and Bell’s palsy had been established so far.
“There is no good reason to explain why the vaccines will affect the facial nerve, called the seventh cranial nerve,” he said.
Apart from the recent cases, Bell’s palsy strikes about 23 people out of every 100,000 in Hong Kong, according to Hui.
He said swelling and inflammation of the facial nerve, which controls the muscles on the side of the face, may cause the nerve to lose its function.
Hui noted that Bell’s palsy is often caused by herpes viruses, and treatment usually includes antivirals and steroids to help decrease swelling of the facial nerve.
“Even without the vaccination campaign, Bell’s palsy will still occur because it can be caused by different types of viruses. So the cases after the jabs should be compared with the background incidence of the condition in the community,” he said.
Most people would recover in a few weeks if the condition were treated early, he added.
While most patients suffering from Bell’s palsy will completely recover even without treatment, hospital care within three days of the onset of symptoms will help enhance the recovery rate, according to a report on the safety of Covid-19 vaccines published by the Department of Health’s Drug Office on Friday.
As of 8pm on Friday, official figures showed about 429,500 people, or about 5.7 per cent of Hong Kong’s population, had been vaccinated. Of those, around 278,200 had received the first dose of the Sinovac vaccine, while some 5,600 took the second dose, including 5,100 on the first day the booster shot was rolled out to the public on Friday.
Around 151,300 people have received their first dose of the BioNTech jab since the vaccination drive began.
Officials on Wednesday abruptly suspended the city’s BioNTech vaccination programme after frontline staff reported to the manufacturer more than 50 instances of defective packaging involving one of the two batches delivered to Hong Kong.
Authorities dismissed safety concerns but said they were taking no chances