Clinical characteristics of headache after vaccination against COVID-19 (coronavirus SARS-CoV-2) with the BNT162b2 mRNA vaccine: a multicentre observational cohort study

Brain Commun. 2021 Jul 23;3(3):fcab169. doi: 10.1093/braincomms/fcab169. eCollection 2021.


The novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 causes the infectious disease COVID-19. Newly developed mRNA vaccines can prevent the spread of the virus. Headache is the most common neurological symptom in over 50% of those vaccinated. Detailed information about the clinical characteristics of this form of headache has not yet been described. The aim of the study is to examine in detail the clinical characteristics of headaches occurring after vaccination against COVID-19 with the BNT162b2 mRNA COVID-19 vaccine for the first time. In a multicentre observational cohort study, data on the clinical features and corresponding variables were recorded using a standardized online questionnaire. The questionnaire was circulated to 12 000 residential care homes of the elderly as well as tertiary university hospitals in Germany and the United Arab Emirates. The primary outcomes of this study are the clinical features of headache after vaccination. Comorbidities, treatment with medication and sociodemographic variables are also analysed. A total of 2349 participants reported headaches after vaccination with the BNT162b2 mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. Headaches occur an average of 18.0 ± 27.0 h after vaccination and last an average duration of 14.2 ± 21.3 h. Only 9.7% of those affected also report headaches resulting from previous vaccinations. In 66.6% of the participants, headache occurs as a single episode. A bilateral location is indicated by 73.1% of the participants. This is most often found on the forehead (38.0%) and temples (32.1%). A pressing pain character is indicated by 49.2% and 40.7% report a dull pain character. The pain intensity is most often moderate (46.2%), severe (32.1%) or very severe (8.2%). The most common accompanying symptoms are fatigue (38.8%), exhaustion (25.7%) and muscle pain (23.4%). Headaches after COVID-19 vaccination show an extensive complex of symptoms. The constellation of accompanying symptoms together with the temporal and spatial headache characteristics delimit a distinctive headache phenotype.

Keywords: COVID-19; International Classification of Headache Disorders; headache; mRNA vaccine; side-effects.