Getting the Flu Shot When You Have Multiple Sclerosis

flu vaccination
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So you make it through the heat of the summer, start enjoying the beautiful fall temperatures, then realize, in horror, that people are starting to sniffle—it’s flu season.

What Is the Flu Shot?

The influenza vaccine (flu shot) is an inactivated vaccine. That means it contains killed the virus that was originally grown in eggs for this purpose. It's given with a needle, usually in the arm muscle. The vaccine itself is changed every year and contains three to four strains of the influenza virus. These are the strains that researchers, based on studies and best guesses, have determined will offer the most defense for that particular year.

Who Should Get the Flu Shot?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, everyone over the age of 6 months should receive the seasonal flu vaccine. Administration of the flu vaccine has been studied at length in people with MS and is considered safe. This has been found to be true regardless of what MS disease-modifying therapy a person is taking. That being said, people taking Lemtrada should receive the flu shot six weeks prior to undergoing their Lemtrada infusion. Also, the flu shot has not been found to trigger MS relapses, a common concern for people.

It's important to note that people with MS should not get FluMist, the flu vaccine which is a nasal spray. It's also called LAIV, or "live attenuated influenza vaccine." This is a live virus vaccine and could be harmful to people with MS, especially anyone taking an immunosuppressant drug. It's not clear yet whether it's okay for people who live in your home to receive the live virus flu vaccine—talk with your neurologist if this is the case for you. 

Fluzone High-Dose, which is available for individuals over the age of 65, is also not recommended for people with MS, mostly because it has not been studied yet in people with MS.

When Not to Get the Flu Shot in MS

If you are having a significant MS relapse that is affecting your everyday functioning, then it's best to hold off on getting the flu shot for about 4-6 weeks after the relapse began. The reasons for this is that the minor side effects of the shot (like fever) could worsen the relapse. Also, if you are getting Solu-Medrol at the time, it could reduce the effectiveness of the vaccine—vaccines need some immune response in order to work.

Bottom Line

Most of us with MS should get it unless you are in the middle of a relapse (delay it). It's safe for people with MS and can prevent relapses—besides, who wants the flu on top of everything else?

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Article Sources
  • Confavreux C et al. Vaccinations and the risk of relapse in multiple sclerosis. Vaccines in Multiple Sclerosis Study Group. N Engl J Med. 2001 Feb 1;344(5):319-26.
  • National MS Society. Vaccinations