Should you be alarmed about a reported 7X increase in Stevens-Johnson Syndrome / toxic epidermal necrolysis from COVID-19 and the vaccine?!
Take a look at the viral claim, and find out what the facts really are!
Claim : Alarming 7X Increase In Stevens-Johnson Syndrome Linked To COVID-19 And Vaccine!
People are sharing an Epoch Times article, claiming that it is evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine can cause the dangerous Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (SJS) or toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN)!
Here is an excerpt of the Epoch Times article. Feel free to skip to the next section for the facts:
‘Alarming’ Sevenfold Increase in Steven-Johnson Syndrome Linked to COVID-19 and Vaccine
A sudden increase in Stevens-Johnson syndrome (SJS)—a rare and potentially fatal skin disorder—may be triggered by COVID-19, increased vaccination rates, or a lowered threshold caused by vaccines or previous infection, according to a large case series recently published in Burns.
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Stevens-Johnson Syndrome May Be Linked To COVID-19 And Vaccine
In this article, I will go through the Epoch Times article, and share with you what the facts really are!
Fact #1 : Stevens-Johnson Syndrome Is An Immune System Disorder
First, let’s start with a quick overview of Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (SJS), and toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN).
Both SJS and TEN are severe skin reactions caused by the body’s own immune system. They are classified as part of the same disease spectrum, with SJS being less severe (<10% body surface affected) and TEN being the most severe form (>30% body surface affected).
SJS / TEN usually occurs as a reaction to new medication or infection, with genetic factors making some people more vulnerable than others. It progresses fairly quickly:
- It usually starts with a fever, sore throat, cough and burning eyes for the first 1-3 days
- Then you may feel widespread skin pain, and a red or purple rash develops and spreads
- You will start to get blisters on your skin, and the ulcers of the mucous membranes of the mouth, nose, eyes, and genitals
- The affected areas of your skin will start to blister, and eventually peel off
However, recovery takes much longer – skin regrowth takes 2-3 weeks, and full recovery often takes several months.
SJS has a mortality rate of about 5%, but TEN which has greater skin involvement has a mortality rate of 30% to 40%. So this is indeed a very serious disorder.
Fact #2 : Case Report Only Identified Possible Associations
The Epoch Times article is based on a case report published online in the journal Burns, called The seven-fold rise in incidence of Stevens-Johnson syndrome & toxic epidermal necrolysis: Associations with COVID-19 and the vaccine.
It is currently listed as an Uncorrected Proof, which means it still needs to be “proof-read and corrected by the author(s)”. But I personally don’t see anything troubling in the article – it is a case report and discussion on the 7X increase in SJS / TEN cases the authors saw in their hospital.
However, I should point out that this case report only refers to SJS / TEN cases seen in one hospital – the Concord Repatriation General Hospital in Sydney, Australia. That does not mean there is something wrong with the case report. It only means that this is one case report. More research is required before any association can be made.
The authors specifically pointed out that their study only identified three “theories” and “possible associations” for future research to look into:
This study identifies possible associations between COVID, the vaccine and the development of SJS/TEN.
We propose three theories for this seven-fold increase in case number; a virus induced, a vaccine induced and a threshold lowering pathway.
We advise future research investigates the impact viruses such as SARS-COV-2 have on immune mediated diseases such as SJS/TEN.
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Fact #3 : COVID-19 / Vaccine-Related SJS Only Increased By 2.67X
As Stevens-Johnson Syndrome is triggered by a new medication or infection, it is definitely possible for a COVID-19 infection, or vaccine, to cause it. However, it is important to note that SJS / TEN develops soon after the person gets infected, or receives the medication / vaccine.
That’s why the study authors look specifically at just 8 cases (out of 14) where the patients recently had a COVID-19 infection, or received a COVID-19 vaccine. The other 6 cases were not mentioned because they were likely caused by something else.
Because only those 8 cases were deemed to be potentially associated with COVID-19 or the vaccine, the actual increase over the baseline average of 3 cases for that hospital was 2.67x higher than normal, not 7X.
Fact #4 : SJS Risk Appears Higher For COVID-19 Infections
When we look at the breakdown of the eight patients whose SJS / TEN could have been caused by either COVID-19 infection or vaccine:
- five patients had COVID-19 in the preceding month
- three patients received a COVID-19 vaccine in the preceding month
Even if we assume that the SJS / TEN of all eight patients were indeed caused by COVID-19 or the vaccine, the results suggest that you are 33% more likely to get SJS / TEN with a COVID-19 infection, than with a COVID-19 vaccine.
- COVID-19 infection : 2.67X risk over baseline
- COVID-19 vaccine : 2X risk over baseline
Fact #5 : SJS / TENS Risk Is Still Very Low
Whether the risk of developing Stevens-Johnson Syndrome from a COVID-19 vaccine increases by 7X or just 2X, the risk is still very low.
By the end of 2022, New South Wales vaccinated over 6.5 million people. Taking into account that just three SJS / TENS cases were linked to the COVID-19 vaccine that year, the risk is only about 1 in 2.17 million!
Even if you assume that all 14 SJS / TEN cases (instead of just 3) were caused by the vaccine, that works out to just 1 in 464,286 vaccinated people. Still very rare.
Fact #6 : Unvaccinated People Have Developed SJS / TENS
The Epoch Times article took pains to point out that “Not a single case of SJS/TEN was reported in an unvaccinated individual.” That’s not surprising because 95% of New South Wales residents were fully-vaccinated by that point in time!
It would be wrong to believe that being unvaccinated means your risk of developing SJS / TEN is zero. Before COVID-19 vaccines were administered, doctors have already reported cases of Stevens-Johnson syndrome in unvaccinated COVID-19 patients:
- an unvaccinated 6 year-old boy developed life-threatening TEN after a COVID-19 infection
- two unvaccinated adult females in India developed TEN after COVID-19 infection
- unvaccinated COVID-19 patient developed TEN after being treated with hydroxychloroquine
And I should point out that before the COVID-19 pandemic, the incidence for people who never got infected or vaccinated was:
- Stevens-Johnson syndrome : 1.6 cases per million people per year
- Toxic epidermal necrolysis : 9.2 cases per million people per year
In other words, New South Wales alone would normally see about 13 cases of SJS, and 75 cases of TENS per year, before the COVID-19 pandemic and the vaccine!
Fact #7 : Risk Of SJS / TENS Much Higher With COVID-19 Infection
A December 2022 review looked at 34 published cases of SJS and TEN developing after COVID-19 infection and vaccination – 12 cases after vaccination, and 22 cases after infection.
Based on their review of the multiple case reports, their tally shows that the risk of getting SJS / TEN from a COVID-19 infection is 4-10X higher than the risk of getting it from any COVID-19 vaccine!
Fact #8 : Underreporting Of SJS / TEN Is Very Unlikely
While the Australian study never once mentioned VAERS (which is an American reporting system), the Epoch Times article took pains to claim that “historically, VAERS has been shown to report fewer than 1 percent of actual vaccine adverse events, which means other cases of SJS/TEN may have occurred but were unreported.”
That “less than 1 percent” claim was based on a very old 2011 report (PDF download) on improving vaccine adverse event reporting to VAERS, based on data collected from June 2006 to October 2009. Needless to say – VAERS has improved significantly in the last 14 years!
More importantly, Stevens-Johnson syndrome is such a severe and traumatising event for both doctor and patient, it is extremely unlikely to go unreported or under-reported.
Many people will probably not bother to report adverse events like muscle ache or a fever after getting the COVID-19 vaccine, but you can be sure they will rush to the hospital once their skin starts peeling off!
Fact #9 : The Epoch Times Appears To Be Promoting This
Interestingly, the Urchin Tracking Module (UTM) parameters at the end of some of these links suggest that The Epoch Times may be promoting the article through certain partners. For example:
The Chief Nerd
utm_source = partner
utm_campaign = TheChiefNerd
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Dr. Adrian Wong has been writing about tech and science since 1997, even publishing a book with Prentice Hall called Breaking Through The BIOS Barrier (ISBN 978-0131455368) while in medical school.
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