Canadian singer Celine Dion recently announced she is suffering from Stiff-Person Syndrome, inspiring claims on social media that her diagnosis is linked to Covid-19 vaccination. This is unproven; experts say there is no evidence the shots cause the rare neurological condition, and a Pfizer document purported to show a connection was misrepresented.
“In Pfizer’s own document. Trying to knock down the population…. Well they are doing it. Someone tell Celine Dion because you know the doctors will deny it has anything to do with medication’s or vaccines even if it’s on their list of side effects,” says a December 10, 2022 Instagram post.
The image shows a long list of ailments with Stiff-Person Syndrome circled. A tweet sharing the same list says: “Call it what it is ‘Jabbed Person Syndrome.'”
Similar claims have circulated widely elsewhere on Twitter and Facebook, including in French. “The Stew Peters Show,” a program AFP has repeatedly fact-checked for spreading vaccine misinformation, also attempted to link Dion’s illness to Covid-19 vaccines.
The posts follow an Instagram video Dion posted on December 8 in which she said was canceling and postponing a series of European shows due to her diagnosis with Stiff-Person Syndrome. According to the US National Organization for Rare Disorders, the condition affects one in one million people and causes painful muscle spasms triggered by events such as loud noises, light physical contact or stress.
Experts told AFP there is no proven link between Covid-19 vaccines and Stiff-Person Syndrome, nor has there been an uptick in diagnoses for the rare condition.
“The short answer is there is no data or evidence to suggest that the Covid-19 vaccine causes Stiff-Person Syndrome. This is also the case for other vaccines,” said Scott Newsome, director of the Stiff Person Syndrome Center at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, in a December 13 email.
Pierre-Francois Pradat, a neurologist at France’s AP-HP Foundation, concurred. Stiff-Person Syndrome “is not linked to the vaccine, it’s a chronic disease that sets in very, very slowly,” he said on December 12.
Dion said in her Instagram video, posted in French and English, that she has “been dealing with problems with my health for a long time.”
Guilhem Sole, director of the Reference Center for Neuromuscular Diseases at Bordeaux Hospital, also highlighted this fact on December 13: “Celine Dion has been complaining about these symptoms for a long time, long before the Covid.”
In May 2021, Dion gave an interview to Radio Canada encouraging people to get vaccinated against Covid-19. AFP contacted Dion through a representative to ask if there was any indication her illness was related to the shot, but a response was not forthcoming.
AFP did not find any public record of her linking her health problems to the jab. She had been struggling with medical issues prior to 2020 when the pandemic cut short her world concert tour.
Sole, a specialist in neuromuscular disorders, said that he has “not seen an increase in the number of patients suffering from this syndrome.” In a typical year, he said no more than 10 new patients are found to have Stiff-Person Syndrome in France, adding that if there were a link to vaccination, “we would have seen the difference.”
Marinos Dalakas, a neurology professor at Thomas Jefferson University, told AFP the claim that Covid-19 vaccines cause Stiff-Person Syndrome (SPS) “makes no scientific sense.”
“I follow more than 100 SPS patients and none of them is connected to the vaccine and none of them worsened by the vaccine,” he said on December 13.
The list of ailments shared in many of the posts comes from documents published by a group called Public Health and Medical Professionals for Transparency.
In August 2021, the organization filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the US Food and Drug Administration to gain access to all the data used to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine. The list shared online details all the conditions that must be subjected to monitoring — including rare ailments that have previously been associated with vaccines, such as Guillain-Barre syndrome.
However, the document also includes symptoms reported following vaccination for which no causal association has been proven.
“This is in no way a list of the adverse effects reported from the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine,” Aurelie Grandvuillemin, deputy head of the Burgundy Regional Pharmacovigilance Center, told AFP in May 2022.
In Canada, the most commonly reported adverse events following Covid-19 vaccination are pain at the injection site and headaches. Health Canada is also carefully monitoring adverse events of special interest (AESI), or “medically significant events that have the potential to be causally associated with a vaccine product.”
Health Canada’s website says the latest data shows the most commonly reported AESI is myocarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle, and pericarditis, irritation of the tissue surrounding the heart.
Canada has administered more than 93 million vaccine doses, and 1,153 cases of myocarditis and pericarditis cases have been recorded. Studies repeatedly find more heart complications following Covid-19 infection than vaccination.
Health Canada and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend Covid-19 vaccination to protect against severe illness and hospitalization.
More of AFP’s reporting on vaccine misinformation is available here.