Treatments & Procedures

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Vaccinations

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease, in which the body’s own immune system attacks the protective covering of nerve fibers of the brain and spinal cord. This affects the way the electrical messages flow within the brain, and from the brain to the rest of your body. It causes damage to the nerves, which causes scarring.

Because vaccinations change the way our immune system works, it is natural for MS patients to have questions around possible interactions between autoimmune diseases and vaccines.

Is there a link between vaccines and MS?

There is currently no evidence to suggest that any vaccination can cause MS or increase the risk of complications associated with a vaccine.

There is also no evidence to suggest that vaccines can make a relapse worse. In fact, many infections can increase the risk of a relapse, so doctors recommend those with MS should protect themselves from infectious disease by having the recommended vaccines.

Should MS patients receive vaccines?

Yes. Doctors recommend that people living with MS receive routine vaccines. Any vaccine that you are planning to receive should be discussed with your MS team. They will review the vaccine against any other medications you may be taking.

Many medicines that are used to treat MS can suppress immunity and reduce the body's ability to produce sufficient antibodies as part of the normal immune response. So, before the MS team start a patient on immunosuppressive medications, they will check if the immune system is ready to deal with common infections by doing blood tests. If required, they will vaccinate to boost immunity. This includes vaccinations against chickenpox, hepatitis and other common infections.

Can I have a vaccine during a relapse?

If you are experiencing a relapse, your doctor will probably recommend that you delay the vaccine until symptoms improve.

Most doctors advise waiting 4 to 6 weeks after a serious relapse before having a vaccination.

Are there specific types of vaccine people with MS should avoid?

There are two types of vaccines. ‘Inactivated’ vaccines come from dead or fragmented parts of a virus or bacteria, or from a substance that the bacteria have created. Inactivated vaccines carry no risk of the disease in people with autoimmune diseases and they are safe for people living with MS.

Live or live-attenuated vaccines contain weakened versions of a virus or bacteria that are unable to cause disease but can trigger an immune response that ensures the body produces antibodies to that disease. Live vaccines include immunizations such as polio, chicken pox or measles. The flu vaccine is live when given as a nasal spray (the shot is inactivated).

However, people with autoimmune diseases such as MS, who are also taking disease modifying drugs (DMD), are advised not to take live vaccines, as the weakened virus/bacteria may cause the disease.

Always disease any vaccine you are planning to take with your doctor.

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This page has been reviewed by a medical professional from Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. Information on this page is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition.

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