Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. Seniors are the most vulnerable. Since many people with Parkinson’s disease (PD) are above age 60, the Parkinson’s Foundation is here to help you learn more about how COVID-19 affects people with Parkinson's and urges you to get vaccinated to stay safe.
About the Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that are like the common cold, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). In 2019, a new virus called COVID-19 formed and spread from Wuhan, China to other countries, including the U.S.
Signs and symptoms of infection with COVID-19 may appear two to 14 days after exposure and can include fever, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. There is currently no cure, however several FDA-approved vaccines provide protection from severe illness or hospitalization if you are exposed to the virus. Variants of the virus have emerged and continue to spread globally and within the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is tracking these variants.
In the U.S., Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccines have been widely distributed and provide protection in the event of COVID-19 exposure. Data shows that these vaccines are safe and beneficial to those with Parkinson’s.
The use of the Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine was temporarily paused; however as of April 23, 2021, the FDA recommended its use resume in the U.S. According to the CDC, women younger than 50 years old should be aware of the rare risk of blood clots and risk of syndromes resulting from low blood platelet counts (thrombocytopenia syndrome) after vaccination. Visit the CDC webpage to learn more about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Currently, we believe that these vaccines do not cause long-term changes in PD symptoms. People with PD may experience the standard short-term side effects of the vaccine, including headache, fever, chills, nausea and muscle or joint pain. These side effects can temporarily worsen the pre-existing Parkinson’s symptoms. The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines require two shots (taken 21 or 28 days apart). Johnson & Johnson is one shot.
Life After Vaccination
According to the CDC, “two weeks after receiving your second shot you are considered fully vaccinated and can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local laws and regulations.” You should also wear a mask in a medical setting, when traveling or using public transit.
Upon receiving the vaccination, you will be given a Vaccine ID Card that lists the brand of vaccine you received and immunization dates. Take a photo of your card and store it in a safe place. Do not purchase a vaccination card or passport online as these are most likely fraudulent products.
Vaccinated people can still contract the virus. If you believe you have COVID-19, and your symptoms worsen, contact your doctor.
If you have been fully vaccinated here are some tips of what you can and shouldn’t do:
Seniors and COVID-19
If not fully vaccinated, seniors are most at risk to develop COVID-19 and its symptoms, which can increase the already elevated risk of getting pneumonia. Seniors should regularly plan to receive the pneumonia and flu vaccines in accordance with their health team.
COVID-19 and People with Parkinson’s
Living with Parkinson’s does not put you at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19, but it does make it harder for you to recover if you contract it. Also, we know that without the vaccine, if you are hospitalized and you have Parkinson’s disease, there is an elevated risk of complications and potentially death.
Even if fully vaccinated, you can contract COVID-19. Parkinson’s and care partners should protect themselves and follow these everyday precautions to limit potential COVID-19 exposure:
- Wash your hands. Wash them often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds at each washing.
- Carry hand sanitizer. When in public spaces use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
- Know the symptoms. Primary symptoms include mild to severe respiratory illness with fever, cough and/or shortness of breath.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Wear a cloth face covering or surgical mask in medical settings, using public transporting and when traveling. Read the CDC’s mask guidance.
- When traveling, wear a face mask. Be sure to look up testing protocols for your destination. Some destinations require negative test results.
- After traveling, watch out for COVID-19 symptoms. If you have been around someone who is sick on your travels, or think you might have COVID-19, get tested and stay home.
While rare, it is possible to contract COVID-19 and become hospitalized after being fully vaccinated. We must also keep in mind that the CDC is tracking and learning more about the variants of the virus are spreading in the U.S. People with Parkinson’s can be prepared for hospitalization with these tips:
- Check all your medications. Take an inventory of all medications and reorder any that are running low.
- Write your medication list down. Write down or print a list of all your medications (not just PD medications). Include medication name, strength, times taken and dosages. This customizable medication schedule can help.
- Make a list of your doctors. Make a list of your doctors and their contact information and take it with you in the event of a hospitalization.
- Stock your Aware in Care kit in the event you need to educate a health care professional about your PD needs. Order one here.
- Have your Medical Alert Card handy. Keep it with you at all times. Print one here.
- PD Hospitalization and Coronavirus Preparedness Fact Sheet: Download this document that has crucial information for healthcare professionals in the case you are hospitalized during the COVID-19 outbreak.
- Parkinson's Disease Care Partner Guide: Download this document that provides answers to questions for people who have loved ones in a senior living facility during the COVID-19 crisis.
The Parkinson's Foundation will continue to monitor and report on COVID-19.
Join Us Online
Join PD Conversations, an online network of support where you can ask your Parkinson’s questions and connect with others living with and impacted by Parkinson’s.
If you have questions about Parkinson's disease call our free Helpline at 1-800-4PD-INFO (473-4636) or email Helpline@Parkinson.org to contact an information specialist.