Between December 14, 2020, and March 2, 2021, the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) received a total of 147 distinct reports of sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) after a COVID-19 shot.
Johns Hopkins researchers evaluated those reports and determined that 40 of those cases were both credible (that is, they were sent in by a doctor and included solid documentation) and plausibly related to administration of a COVID-19 vaccine (they occurred within three weeks of receiving a shot).
Of those 40 cases, 25 were women and 15 were men ranging in age from 25 to 88, with an average age of 56; SSNHL typically strikes people in their late 40s or early 50s. Twenty-eight of them had received the vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech, and the remaining 12 received the Moderna vaccine. (None of the cases involved the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine, which was authorized by the FDA just days before the study period ended.)
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a total of 86,553,330 doses of vaccine went into arms in the United States during the roughly 12-week window they examined.
To come up with the lowest possible incidence of vaccine-related sudden hearing loss, the researchers imagined that all of those doses were given to separate people, and that only 40 of them developed SNHL. On an annualized basis, that would work out to 0.3 cases per 100,000 people.
But even that was well below the SNHL incidence observed in the United States before the advent of COVID-19 vaccines. According to a 2013 study in the Journal Otology and Neurotology, the low end of that range was 11 cases per 100,000 people for patients younger than age 18, and the high end was 77 cases per 100,000 for patients who were 65 or older. “No matter how you look at it, it’s clear that COVID-19 vaccines aren’t fueling any increase in cases of sudden hearing loss,” the Johns Hopkins doctors concluded.
Formeister EJ, Chien W, Agrawal Y, et al. (2021) Preliminary analysis of association between COVID-19 vaccination and sudden hearing loss using U.S. centers for disease control and prevention vaccine adverse events reporting system data. JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. Published online May 20. doi:10.1001/jamaoto.2021.0869.
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