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Should You Get the COVID-19 Vaccine If You Have MS?

A female healthcare worker in a mask and gloved giving a vaccine to an older masked man in a wheelchair.

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Key Takeaways

  • Some people with multiple sclerosis (MS) are at higher risk for severe COVID-19 and are therefore eligible for early vaccination.
  • According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, both the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines are safe for people with MS. The organization has not yet made a decision about the Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
  • If you have MS, talk to your doctor before getting vaccinated—especially if you are being treated with disease-modifying therapies (including Ocrevus, Lemtrada, Rituximab, Mavenclad, and Kesimpta) which may reduce the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

If you have multiple sclerosis (MS), you might be wondering if the condition places you at increased risk for COVID-19 and whether you will be eligible to receive a vaccine soon. While the answer is technically no, some of the indirect effects of the condition and several of its treatments can increase your susceptibility, so you will need to discuss the vaccine with your doctor.

Are People With MS at Higher Risk for COVID-19?

Julie Fiol, RN, the director of MS information and resources for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS), tells Verywell that some of the indirect effects of MS and its treatment can increase a person's risk for COVID-19.

Although MS itself isn’t a risk factor for COVID-19, Fiol says that "certain factors associated with" it are. These include obesity, severe disability, heart conditions, and lung conditions.

Another consideration is disease-modifying therapy (DMT) adherence. DMTs are the prescription medications, injections, and infusions that can significantly reduce the severity and frequency of relapses, but also dampen the immune system. This could increase COVID-19 risk.

What Is MS?

Multiple sclerosis occurs when the body's own immune cells progressively destroy myelin, a fatty substance that insulates nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord against damage. MS can have a diverse range of symptoms, including fatigue, spasticity, muscle weakness, incontinence, and cognitive dysfunction.

The disease remains a medical mystery in many respects, but it is known to affect almost three times as many women as men.

Which MS Patients Should Be Prioritized for Vaccination?

Considering these risks, NMSS is advocating for certain subgroups of people with MS to be prioritized for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Fiol says that some people with MS are more vulnerable to infection, illness, and death than others. Subgroups at higher risk include:

  • Men with MS
  • People with progressive MS
  • Black and possibly South Asian people with MS
  • People over the age of 60 with MS
  • People with serious mobility issues

"Vaccination against COVID-19 is critical for public safety and, especially, the safety of the most vulnerable among us," Fiol says. "The authorization of safe and effective vaccines for COVID-19 brings us one step closer to eliminating this pandemic."

Are COVID-19 Vaccines Safe for People With MS?

NMSS has deemed the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines safe for use in people with MS. The organization will make a decision about the Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccine soon.

"We hope to have guidance on the J&J vaccine available to people with MS soon, but it’s too early for me to predict a date," Fiol says, adding that members of its Vaccine Advisory Group met on March 4 to review relevant CDC guidelines and FDA data.

In the meantime, if you have MS, Fiol recommends talking to your provider about the particulars of your medical history—including previous vaccination experiences before getting a COVID-19 shot.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

Fiol says that you "should ask questions that will help [you] feel more assured of the safety of the COVID-9 vaccine." Examples of questions to ask your doctor include:

  • Will getting the vaccine trigger an MS relapse?
  • Should I expect to have the same side effects as someone who does not have MS?
  • Will I need to continue to take safety precautions such as masking and socially distancing after vaccination?

MS Treatment and Vaccine Effectiveness

If you are receiving disease-modifying therapy (DMT), be sure to ask your doctor if your treatment will interfere with the vaccine's effectiveness.

While most DMTs will not affect your body’s response to a vaccine—COVID-19 or otherwise—there are a few that Fiol says “may make the vaccine less effective” by dampening your body's immune response.

Ocrevus, Lemtrada, Rituximab, Mavenclad, and Kesimpta may reduce the effectiveness of any vaccine, including a COVID-19 vaccine.

If you can, try to coordinate your vaccination and DMT treatment to be two, four, or more weeks apart. If that's not possible, ask your doctor about the best way to manage both your treatment and vaccine schedule.

"Given the potential serious health consequences of COVID-19 disease and the worldwide shortage of vaccines, getting the vaccine when it becomes available may be more important than optimally timing the vaccine with [your] DMT," Fiol says. "People with MS should work with their healthcare provider to determine the best time for them to get vaccinated."

What This Means For You

If you have MS, be aware that treatment with any disease-modifying therapies could affect the duration or quality of vaccine-induced immunity. Depending on your treatment schedule, try to space DMT treatment and vaccination around a month apart for best results. 

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Covid-19 and your health. Updated February 19, 2021.

  2. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Disease-modifying therapies for MS. Updated February 2021.

  3. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Definition of MS.

  4. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. MS symptoms.

  5. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Who gets MS? (epidemiology).

  6. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Timing MS medications with COVID-19 mRNA vaccines.

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