On Friday, Justin Bieber told his fans on Instagram that he had to cancel upcoming dates for his world tour due to health reasons. The health issue, he said during his Instagram Live, was a diagnosis of Ramsay Hunt syndrome, a complication of the shingles virus that causes facial paralysis. Ramsay Hunt is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes shingles, which in turn is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. If you contracted chickenpox as a child, the virus remains dormant in your system, putting you at risk of developing shingles later in life. “I’m just not physically able to do that [the shows]’ Bieber said on Instagram Live. “That’s pretty serious, as you can see.”
Bieber’s health disclosure sparked a flurry of explainers across the internet, with many news outlets explaining what Ramsay Hunt syndrome is, what its symptoms are and how to treat it. It also prompted anti-vaccination activists to speculate wildly, based on very limited evidence that Bieber contracted the virus when he received the Covid-19 vaccine.
More from Rolling Stone
“Everybody does it Justin Bieber is not vaccination hurt. The denial goes way too deep,” reads a tweet with more than 3,400 shares. Many also linked Bieber’s illness to the fact that his wife, Hailey Bieber, developed a blood clot that traveled to her brain and required surgery back in March. (Hailey spoke about it shortly after, claiming the blood clot was a perfect storm of several factors, including taking birth control pills — a known risk factor for clots — on a transcontinental flight and, more recently, Covid.)
TikTok has also become a petri dish for such conspiracy-sponsoring content. “Both Hailey (clot) and Justin Bieber have SEs [side effects]’ one user wrote in the caption to her video, along with an emoji of a syringe. “GUYS WAKE THE DAMN UP.” Many of these videos are under the hashtag #ramsayhuntsyndrome on TikTok, which currently has 34 million views, although they have received comparatively few views and are not at the top of search results.
To be clear, there is no evidence that Bieber’s diagnosis is an adverse effect of the Covid vaccine, in large part because there is no evidence he was vaccinated to begin with. Although he does demand that visitors to his concerts be vaccinatedHe did not say directly whether he was vaccinated against Covid himself. He announced last February that he had tested positive for Covid and it’s plausible this may have triggered his recent health problems, says Dr. Katrine Wallace, aka Dr. Kat, an epidemiologist debunking anti-vaccination and health misinformation on TikTok.
“Any Stress on the immune system can cause a resurgence of the virus dormant in the nerves,” says Wallace. “It may be Covid. It can be any viral infection.” She says she’s also spoken to people who have experienced significant life stressors, such as divorce or moving house, and subsequently contracted shingles.
According to Gerald A. Evans, MD, chair of the Department of Infectious Diseases at Queen’s University and Kingston Health Sciences Centre, many anti-vaccinationists probably confuse Ramsay Hunt with Bell’s palsy, another condition that affects the motor nerves of the face and has multiple causes , including Lyme disease. There have been a handful of reports that the Covid vaccine can cause Bell’s palsy, he says, although this is extremely rare. However, Bell’s palsy differs from Ramsay Hunt in that Ramsay Hunt is caused by the varicella zoster virus and is characterized by blisters and a rash in the ear, which Bell’s palsy is not.
“It’s very unlikely,” Evans says, that Bieber’s Ramsay Hunt Syndrome was caused by a vaccine. “Everyone has to stop speculating,” he says. “You are not his doctor.”
Many reports have shared small studies suggesting receipt of the vaccine was linked to Ramsay Hunt to support this argument. However, the most shared paper is a case study from Hong Kong based on a 37-year-old man who developed Ramsay Hunt after receiving the vaccine – hardly representative of a larger phenomenon. Another review published last year examined the link between Covid-19 and the virus that causes shingles, based on 54 reported cases; it stated that it “could not determine [a] clear link,” but hinted that there could be a “possible link” between the vaccine and the virus, although that deserves a much broader review.
“The current evidence is insufficient to establish a definitive link between shingles (VZV reactivation) and the Covid-19 vaccine,” Wallace says, noting that a person does not automatically develop shingles from a Covid-19 virus. can get vaccine; the virus must already be dormant in their systems. “While there is an association, it is a rare side effect and the benefits of vaccination outweigh the potential risks.”
At the end of the day, Bieber’s case might be more of an argument to the vaccines than against them. There are widely available vaccines for chickenpox and shingles, with the former being 90 percent effective in preventing chickenpox. The widespread speculation as to whether his particular health issue is related to vaccinations isn’t specific to him either, as similar baseless rumors spread following the deaths of fellow celebrities Bob Saget and DMX last year.
“People need to feel like they’re in control in this spiraling situation,” Wallace says of the recent onslaught of vaccine-related misinformation. “Science is difficult and cumbersome. It’s easy to think that all problems reside in a vaccine because you can simply choose not to. So people keep coming up with new and bizarre theories.”
The best of Rolling Stone
Click here to read the full article.