Tab Application Banner
  • Users Online: 782
  • Home
  • Print this page
  • Email this page
Home About us Editorial board Ahead of print Current issue Search Archives Submit article Instructions Subscribe Contacts Login 

 Table of Contents  
Year : 2022  |  Volume : 17  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 216-221

Herpes zoster reactivation after COVID-19 vaccination in patients with autoimmune diseases

1 Department of Uveitis and Ocular immunology, Narayana Nethralaya, Bangalore, India
2 Optima Arthritis and Rheumatology Clinic, Bangalore, India
3 Divisha Arthritis and Medical Center and Department of Rheumatology Manipal Hospital, Bangalore, India

Date of Submission26-Jun-2021
Date of Acceptance02-Sep-2021
Date of Web Publication26-Nov-2021

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Srinivasan Sanjay
Department of Uveitis and Ocular immunology, Narayana Nethralaya, 121/C Chord Road, Rajajinagar 1st R block Bengaluru 560010
Login to access the Email id

Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/injr.injr_137_21

Rights and Permissions

How to cite this article:
Sanjay S, Ponnuru D, Kumar S, R Rao VK, Kawali A, Mahendradas P. Herpes zoster reactivation after COVID-19 vaccination in patients with autoimmune diseases. Indian J Rheumatol 2022;17:216-21

How to cite this URL:
Sanjay S, Ponnuru D, Kumar S, R Rao VK, Kawali A, Mahendradas P. Herpes zoster reactivation after COVID-19 vaccination in patients with autoimmune diseases. Indian J Rheumatol [serial online] 2022 [cited 2022 Jul 4];17:216-21. Available from:

Dear Editor,

Patients with autoimmune diseases were given priority for vaccination during Phase 2 of Indian COVID-19 vaccination program (for those aged between 45 and 60 years). However, trials for COVID-19 vaccines did not include individuals with autoimmune inflammatory rheumatic diseases (AIIRDs).[1] The efficacy and safety of these vaccines in this population are yet to be fully delineated. We report 3 Asian Indian patients, 2 females and a male with AIIRD who developed herpes zoster (HZ) shortly (3–30 days) after vaccination with COVISHIELD™.

  Case 1 Top

This case 1 was a 63-year-old male with a history of type 2 diabetes mellitus and hypertension. He had developed seropositive rheumatoid arthritis (RA) a decade earlier and presently was on treatment with oral hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) 200 mg once a day and oral methotrexate (MTX) 15 mg/week. He was diagnosed with posterior scleritis by the ophthalmologist and had 2 recurrences after cessation of oral steroids. After consultation with the rheumatologist, he received intravenous cyclophosphamide 1000 mg pulse therapy. One week after the first dose of cyclophosphamide, the patient received COVISHIELD™ vaccination and 2 weeks later, he developed herpes zoster ophthalmicus (HZO) with Sclero-uveitis with choroidal vitiligo. He was continued on systemic steroids. He was started on valacyclovir 1000 mg three times daily for 2 weeks and tapering dose of prednisolone eye drops as well as acivir eye ointment to the lids and eye. He had a relapse of kerato-uveitis in both the eyes after stopping the antiviral and steroid therapy. Cyclophosphamide was resumed after 2 weeks with maintenance of oral valacyclovir. No relapse of Herpetic uveitis was noted in 1 month follow up duplicated. He took the second dose of COVISHEILD vaccination uneventfully 6 weeks after the 1st dose.

  Case 2 Top

This case 2 was a 60-year-old female with a clinical diagnosis of polymyalgia rheumatica associated with inflammatory arthritis. She was on tofacitinib 5 mg twice per day dose after being weaned off the steroids. Soon after this, she received 1st dose of COVISHIELD™ vaccine. Thirty days postvaccination, she developed T9-10 dermatome HZ rash [Figure 1]. Tofacitinib was stopped for 30 days and she has received oral and topical (5%) acyclovir 400 mg twice daily for 10 days after which the zoster lesions have resolved. She had a flare up of arthritis 1 month after stopping tofacitinib and raised inflammatory markers, erythrocyte sedimentation rate (104 mm in 1st h) and C-reactive protein (83 mg/l) was noted. Tofacitinib was restarted 30 days after HZ infection.
Figure 1: Zoster occurring in a patient with PMR who was on tofacitinib

Click here to view

  Case 3 Top

This case 3 was a 67-year-old female with a clinical diagnosis of type 2 diabetes and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and inflammatory polyarthritis (seropositive RA). She was on oral MTX15 mg per week and oral HCQ 200 mg daily. She received her first dose of COVISHIELD™ vaccine and developed HZ on the left T-9 dermatomal region on 3rd day after vaccination. She received oral acyclovir (800 mg three times a day) and topical acyclovir (5%) with which the lesions resolved over 3 weeks. She developed postherpetic neuralgia for which she received oral pregabalin 75 mg twice daily for 4 weeks. She received her second dose of vaccine 6 weeks after zoster uneventfully.

COVISHIELD™ vaccine which has been used extensively in India is similar to the Astra Zeneca™ vaccine. A preprint reporting on adverse events in the initial 2 weeks following vaccination in 1638 health-care workers in Haryana, India, did not report any case of HZ.[2] The 3 cases we came across raised our suspicion whether patients with autoimmune disease were at higher risk of this complication. Only 1 study has been published till date which has attempted to determine the odds of this adverse event among AIIRD patients. HZ reactivation following vaccination with the Pfizer vaccine occurred more commonly in patients with autoimmune rheumatic diseases compared to the general population (6 out of 491 patients with AIIRD versus none of 99 healthy controls).[3]

The details of the types of vaccine and published reports of zoster after COVID-19 vaccination have been grouped and compared in [Table 1].
Table 1: Details of published reports of zoster reactivation post-COVID-19 vaccination

Click here to view

HZ is a major health burden that can affect individuals of any age. It is seen more commonly among individuals aged ≥50 years, female gender, those with immunocompromised status, and those on immunosuppressant drugs (as seen in our patients too). However, some South Asian studies showed a slight male predominance.[4]

About 1 in 3 will develop HZ in their lifetime, amounting to an estimated 1 million episodes in the United States annually. An estimated 10%–20% of people with HZ may develop HZO.[5]

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), systemic lupus erythematosus, RA, cancers, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, and psoriasis patients are at a higher risk for HZ.[6]

In a study from Gujarat, India, of patients with HZ, only 5.1% were HIV positive and ¾ of them were males. Cervical dermatome was most commonly involved dermatome in patients of HIV.[7]

In a study of patients with HZO, the right side of face was commonly involved; 5.6% were immunocompromised. HIV, chemotherapy, diabetes, and postrenal transplant immune suppression were seen in this cohort.[8]

Reports of zoster after COVID-19 infection raise the suspicion that the COVID-19 infection might be the trigger for zoster reactivation.[9] The zoster events might be coincidentally associated with vaccination since vaccination is prioritized among those groups who are at highest risk of COVID-19. Available data (including the present case series) seems to suggest that most patients recover uneventfully without any major complications. In addition, data from small subset of rheumatic disease patients with HZ after the first dose of COVID-19 vaccination demonstrated that they could safely take the second dose of the vaccine without any recurrence.[3] These observations could raise the question whether this adverse event is something rheumatologists really need to be concerned about. Many patients in India with zoster report to their family physician and generally recover without any specific treatment. Thus, rheumatologists and other specialists treating patients with autoimmune diseases need to be aware of a possible occurrence of zoster postvaccination. This will help them to inform their patients to report the development or occurrence of zoster.

This is the first report of zoster post-COVID-19 vaccination with COVISHIELDTM in patients with autoimmune inflammatory rheumatic disease. It is also the first report of post-COVID-19 vaccination zoster from India. Whether zoster reactivation is a direct effect of the vaccine or a co-incidental phenomenon needs to be identified by rigorous adverse event reporting and studies of larger cohorts of patients. We wish to highlight the fact that HZ may follow after COVID-19 vaccination but may not have any causal effect.

Declaration of patient consent

The authors certify that they have obtained all appropriate patient consent forms. In the form the patient (s) has/have given his/her/their consent for his/her/their images and other clinical information to be reported in the journal. The patients understand that their names and initial s will not be published and due efforts will be made to conceal their identity, but anonymity cannot be guaranteed.


The authors would like to thank Dr. Mahendranath, consultant rheumatologist.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.


  References Top

Voysey M, Clemens SA, Madhi SA, Weckx LY, Folegatti PM, Aley PK, et al. Safety and efficacy of the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine (AZD1222) against SARS-CoV-2: An interim analysis of four randomised controlled trials in Brazil, South Africa, and the UK. Lancet 2021;397:99-111.  Back to cited text no. 1
Kataria S, Sharma P, Deswal V, Kumar K, Singh M, Alam S, et al. A real world evaluation of the safety and immunogenicity of the Covishield vaccine, ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 Corona Virus Vaccine (Recombinant) in Health Care Workers (HCW) in National Capital Region (NCR) of India: A preliminary report. medRxiv 2021;doi:  Back to cited text no. 2
Furer V, Zisman D, Kibari A, Rimar D, Paran Y, Elkayam O. Herpes zoster following BNT162b2 mRNA Covid-19 vaccination in patients with autoimmune inflammatory rheumatic diseases: a case series. Rheumatology (Oxford). 2021:keab345. doi: 10.1093/rheumatology/keab345. Epub ahead of print.  Back to cited text no. 3
Koshy E, Mengting L, Kumar H, Jianbo W. Epidemiology, treatment and prevention of herpes zoster: A comprehensive review. Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol 2018;84:251-62.  Back to cited text no. 4
[PUBMED]  [Full text]  
Sanjay S, Huang P, Lavanya R. Herpes zoster ophthalmicus. Curr Treat Options Neurol 2011;13:79-91.  Back to cited text no. 5
Chen SY, Suaya JA, Li Q, Galindo CM, Misurski D, Burstin S, et al. Incidence of herpes zoster in patients with altered immune function. Infection 2014;42:325-34.  Back to cited text no. 6
Vora RV, Anjaneyan G, Kota RK, Pilani AP, Diwan NG, Patel NN. Study of clinical profile of herpes zoster in human immunodeficiency virus positive and negative patients at a rural-based tertiary care center, Gujarat. Indian J Sex Transm Dis AIDS 2017;38:65-8.  Back to cited text no. 7
Babu K, Mahendradas P, Sudheer B, Kawali A, Parameswarappa DC, Pal V, et al. Clinical profile of herpes zoster ophthalmicus in a South Indian patient population. Ocul Immunol Inflamm 2018;26:178-83.  Back to cited text no. 8
Diez-Domingo J, Parikh R, Bhavsar AB, Cisneros E, McCormick N, Lecrenier N. Can COVID-19 increase the risk of herpes zoster? A narrative review. Dermatol Ther (Heidelb) 2021;11:1119-26.  Back to cited text no. 9
Bostan E, Yalici-Armagan B. Herpes zoster following inactivated COVID-19 vaccine: A coexistence or coincidence? J Cosmet Dermatol. 2021;20:1566-7.  Back to cited text no. 10
McMahon DE, Amerson E, Rosenbach M, Lipoff JB, Moustafa D, Tyagi A, et al. Cutaneous reactions reported after Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination: A registry-based study of 414 cases. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2021;85:46-55.  Back to cited text no. 11
Rodríguez-Jiménez P, Chicharro P, Cabrera LM, Seguí M, Morales-Caballero Á, Llamas-Velasco M, et al. Varicella-zoster virus reactivation after SARS-CoV-2 BNT162b2 mRNA vaccination: Report of 5 cases. JAAD Case Rep.2021;12:58-9.  Back to cited text no. 12
Psichogiou M, Samarkos M, Mikos N, Hatzakis A. Reactivation of Varicella Zoster Virus after Vaccination for SARS-CoV-2. Vaccines 2021;9:572.  Back to cited text no. 13
Lee C, Cotter D, Basa J, Greenberg HL. 20 Post-COVID-19 vaccine-related shingles cases seen at the Las Vegas Dermatology clinic and sent to us via social media. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2021;20:1960-4.  Back to cited text no. 14
Eid E, Abdullah L, Kurban M, Abbas O. Herpes zoster emergence following mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. J Med Virol. 2021;93:5231-2.  Back to cited text no. 15


  [Figure 1]

  [Table 1]


Similar in PUBMED
Access Statistics
Email Alert *
Add to My List *
* Registration required (free)

  In this article
Case 1
Case 2
Case 3
Article Figures
Article Tables

 Article Access Statistics
    PDF Downloaded16    
    Comments [Add]    

Recommend this journal