An influencer claimed she was experiencing neurological symptoms due to the COVID-19 vaccine.
The vaccine is not known to cause any neurological symptoms.
Neurologists have cautioned that similar viral videos may fuel vaccine hesitancy.
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GoFundMe said it is investigating a fundraiser benefiting an influencer who claimed that she was experiencing a variety of neurological symptoms as a result of receiving the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
Dominique De Silva has over 98,000 followers on Instagram, where she posted about her work as a real estate agent and life in Las Vegas prior to moving to North Carolina. She went viral on the platform after claiming in a July 17 post that she was experiencing neurological symptoms as a result of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The Pfizer vaccine recently received full approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for individuals 16 and over and is safe and effective.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, there’s no evidence of a causal link between COVID-19 vaccines and neurological illness.
Experts have cautioned that viral videos like De Silva’s could fuel vaccine hesitancy, a major crisis in the US.
A GoFundMe spokesperson told Insider that the company’s Trust & Safety team is investigating a fundraiser titled “Help Dominique recover from the Covid-19 vaccine” that lists De Silva as the beneficiary. To date, it has received over $18,400 in donations.
The spokesperson told Insider that the company has reached out for further information and would process refund requests from donors in accordance with GoFundMe’s standard refund policy.
De Silva’s story went viral on social media
De Silva first claimed in a July 17 Instagram post that she was experiencing neurological symptoms as a result of the COVID-19 vaccine. Her post, which remains active on Instagram, was labeled by Instagram with a notice stating: “COVID-19 vaccines go through many tests for safety and effectiveness and are then monitored closely.”
In the time since that viral post, she’s gained at least 53,800 followers on Instagram, according to data from SocialBlade, a social-media analytics website.
Instagram did not return Insider’s request for comment.
On social media and her blog, De Silva has claimed that she’s experiencing symptoms including dystonia, difficulty walking, pain and weakness in her legs, vertigo, short-term memory loss, trouble forming sentences, and brain fog.
Her TikTok account has also amassed over 311,000 followers after she reiterated the claim in a since-deleted viral video. The circumstances of its removal are unclear. TikTok did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.
In the time since her posts went viral, De Silva has been subject to scrutiny online, particularly on platforms like Reddit and TikTok. In a TikTok video posted on Saturday, De Silva showed a photo of her purported vaccination card (with identifying numbers censored) and said that she had received comments accusing her of faking her illness.
She posted an Instagram Reel on Wednesday that contained partially redacted documents that appeared to show that she had received a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine as well as hospital bills and post-visit summaries that matched some of the symptoms and diagnostic tests that she had claimed in previous posts.
De Silva did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.
Neurologists have examined the link between functional neurological disorder and vaccinations
Some of De Silva’s alleged health problems match the symptoms of functional neurological disorder (FND), a condition in which people experience neurological symptoms in the absence of structural damage. De Silva has said that she was diagnosed with dystonia – involuntary muscle contractions – but has not claimed to have been diagnosed with FND.
The actual cause of FND is unknown, but any “abnormal physical and psychological experiences” can trigger it, the Functional Neurological Disorder Society (FNDS) said in a January press release.
This can include anything from having blood drawn to spraining a wrist, the FNDS told CTV News. It could also be triggered by vaccination, according to Dr. Alfonso Fasano, a neurology professor at the University of Toronto and a staff neurologist at Toronto Western Hospital.
But it’s not the vaccine itself that’s the problem. Instead, researchers believe “factors such as expectations, beliefs, heightened bodily attention, arousal, and threat/emotional processing” may trigger FND, according to an April article published in JAMA Neurology.
“[FND] can theoretically happen with a trigger such as injecting saline, and these events do not mean the current vaccines are unsafe,” the article said.
Fasano told Insider that FND is “very common.” It manifests with a variety of symptoms including weakness or paralysis, abnormal movement, tremors, loss of balance, episodes of unresponsiveness, and seizures, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Doctors caution that these kinds of posts could fuel vaccine hesitancyA medical assistant administers a COVID-19 vaccine dose to a woman at a clinic in Los Angeles on March 25, 2021. Mario Tama/Getty Images
Viral videos like De Silva’s that link neurological symptoms to COVID-19 vaccines have become a concern for neurologists who are advocating for greater clarity and messaging on the connections between FND and vaccination.
According to a Gallup poll released in June, one in four Americans didn’t want to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, with misinformation and concerns over side effects contributing factors. Vaccine hesitancy has contributed to the rise of the more infectious Delta variant of the coronavirus, Insider previously reported.
The FNDS has cautioned against viral videos that suggested neurological complications after COVID-19 vaccination, saying that they could lead to a “misleading impression of neurological complications of the vaccines.” The JAMA Neurology article echoed that concern.
“I think people need to feel the responsibility of what they’re doing, especially people with a lot of followers,” Fasano said.
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