Caymanian teenager Jacqueline Aubert is on the mend in a Miami hospital after being diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a rare but serious autoimmune disorder, her mother confirmed to the Cayman Compass.

Speaking with the Compass from Florida on Friday, her mother, Michele Aubert, said Jacqueline is currently at the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami receiving treatment, and her condition is improving after experiencing severe back pains and other symptoms related to GBS.

Caymanian teen Jacqueline and her dad Gilles Aubert as she did her physio. -Photo: Submitted

“Jacqueline is doing very well and making great progress to a full recovery. We want to thank all the kind individuals who reached out and are praying for us. We will share further in due course,” Aubert said via WhatsApp messages.

Jacqueline’s doctors at the Miami hospital connected the rare disorder to the teenager’s COVID-19 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine dose, which she received early last month, Aubert said.

In a statement Saturday responding to queries on GBS, Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee said, “There is currently no evidence of a causative link between the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and the diagnosis of GBS.”

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This week, Aubert’s case was highlighted on local Instagram platforms after Michele posted about her daughter on Facebook.

Since then, there have been a number of comments and concerns raised in the community about the teen.

Lee acknowledged there have been questions regarding a potential link between the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against the COVID-19 disease and the diagnosis of Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) in Cayman.

“A number of serious medical conditions have developed in people who have received vaccinations against COVID-19 disease in these islands, but it is exceedingly difficult to prove cause and effect as other issues may be involved with each individual patient. The good news is that these people are either fully recovered or are improving,” Lee said.

He assured the public there have been no deaths in the Cayman Islands linked to the vaccine.

“It is continually encouraged that individuals talk with their healthcare provider about vaccination to ensure they have all the best information needed to educate themselves,” he said in his statement.

Dr John Lee COIVD presser February 2021
Cayman’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. John Lee. Photo: GIS

Public Health England, in an August guidance, said it was investigating whether there is a link between COVID-19 vaccines and GBS.

“A causal link between COVID-19 vaccination and GBS has not been proven and cases of GBS that occur following vaccination may occur by chance,” it stated.

“Cases following COVID-19 vaccination have been reported in the UK and internationally and investigations are ongoing to establish if the rate of reported cases is above what would be expected in the population and whether there is evidence of an association with these vaccines. GBS cases have been reported following other vaccination programmes, with much research focusing on GBS and the seasonal flu vaccine,” the August statement said.

As of 11 Aug. 2021, Public Health England said there were 383 reports of GBS following AstraZeneca vaccination in the UK, and 23 reports of Miller Fisher syndrome, a variant of GBS, which causes abnormal muscle coordination, paralysis of eye muscles and loss of tendon reflexes.

“There were 42 reports of GBS following Pfizer/BioNTech vaccination and 2 following Moderna vaccination. Over this time period, 24.8 million first doses and 23.9 million second doses of the (AstraZeneca) vaccine have been administered, 21.0 million first doses and 24.7 second doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine have been administered, and 1.4 million first doses and 0.6 million second doses of the Moderna vaccine,” it added in the latest report on GBS.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said people can develop GBS after some other infections, such as the flu, cytomegalovirus, Epstein Barr virus, and Zika virus. “Very rarely, people have developed GBS in the days or weeks after receiving certain vaccines,” according to the CDC, which does not name a specific vaccine.

Lee pointed to the UK statistics in his statement, adding that the number of cases reported to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) following vaccination are less than the number expected to occur by chance.

“The annual incidence of GBS in the UK population is estimated at 2 per 100,000 per year with similar numbers in other western countries. In the USA, the incidence is similar and between 3,000 and 6,000 people develop GBS each year,” he said.

In August, the World Health Organization Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety (GACVS) noted that increased GBS reports have not been observed following mRNA COVID-19 vaccines (Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines), “but that the potential benefits of the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) and [AstraZeneca] vaccines continue to outweigh any potential risk of GBS”.

Lee added that the UK Health Security Agency, in its guidance to healthcare professionals on the occurrence of GBS following COVID-19 vaccination, “has noted that a causal link between COVID-19 vaccination and GBS has not been proven and there is no evidence of a higher rate of reporting of GBS following COVID-19 vaccination”.

Aubert got medical clearance

Jacqueline Aubert and her parents Gilles and Michele. – Photo: Submitted

Michele Aubert said she was aware of the social media comments and wanted to share what happened to her daughter.

Since Jacqueline was born premature, she said the family sought advice from a specialist doctor and got approval for the teen to be vaccinated.

She said her daughter received the second dose on 7 Sept.

“She had the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in Grand Cayman. Her symptoms began the next day [8 Sept.] and a spinal tap on day 7 confirmed the GBS. Her team of doctors here in Florida has confirmed the vaccine caused the GBS,” Michele said.

What is GBS?

Michele Aubert comforts her daughter Jacqueline during one of her episodes of severe back pain. – Photo: Submitted

Guillain-Barré Syndrome is a very rare autoimmune disorder that attacks the body’s nerves.

“It’s so rare that less than 1% of the population has had this reaction,” Michele said.

The US National Advisory Neurological Disorders and Stroke Council (NANDSC) says, “GBS can range from a very mild case with brief weakness to nearly devastating paralysis, leaving the person unable to breathe independently.

“Fortunately, most people eventually recover from even the most severe cases of GBS. After recovery, some people will continue to have some degree of weakness.”

The CDC says that with this rare autoimmune disorder “a person’s own immune system damages the nerves, causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis. GBS can cause symptoms that last for a few weeks to several years. Most people recover fully, but some have permanent nerve damage”.

The CDC says one in 100,000 people are affected by GBS.

An estimated 3,000-6,000 people develop GBS each year in the United States.

Jacqueline Aubert having fun days before she took her second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. – Photo: Submitted

Aubert, in her statement to the Compass, said, “The typical progression of GBS is from the legs up to the arms over a one-week to four-week period,” she added.

The CDC reports that people with GBS usually first experience weakness or tingling sensations in both legs.

Many times, this spreads to the arms and upper body.

“Symptoms may increase until some muscles cannot be used at all and, in severe cases, the person can become paralyzed. Symptoms can progress over hours, days, or weeks, and weakness typically peaks within the first two weeks after symptoms appear. Recovery may take as little as a few weeks or as long as a few years,” it added.

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