You Have MS. You Got the COVID Vaccine. Are You Protected?
My wife, who has MS, has been taking immunosuppressant medications for more than two decades. She was among the first in line to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccines are said to be more than 90% effective in preventing a COVID infection.
So, why did Cathy cancel a medical appointment this morning in which she would have to remove her mask? The answer is not so simple. But the short answer is that Cathy, and many others who took the vaccine, may not be fully protected.
We’ve been very cautious
To be sure, our family has been ultra-conservative since we first learned about COVID-19 back in February 2020. We wore masks, did not travel, and sanitized doorknobs and other parts of our home with alcohol wipes before health officials recommended any of those steps.
We were acutely aware that Cathy was more vulnerable to catching COVID-19 than the general population. We also recognized – and still fear – that her suppressed immune system would probably be no match for this dreaded virus. The vaccine should have put much of our fear to rest. But it hasn’t.
Our experience with MS and the COVID-19 vaccine
When lifeguards post a red flag at the beach, it means that folks should not swim due to an undertow or other dangerous conditions. Some MS experts have raised the red flag for those taking certain disease-modifying therapies.
More than one expert informally advised us that Cathy’s immune system may not be producing sufficient COVID-19 antibodies because she takes a medication that suppresses the immune system. In other words, her MS medication might be neutralizing the COVID-19 vaccine to some extent.
Why not take a COVID antibody test to find out if this is happening? We were advised that the tests are not sufficiently reliable and that even if a test showed a high level of antibodies, Cathy could not depend on the result. The test might show a high level of COVID antibodies even if her level was low.
News flash: A more specific warning
On August 23, 2021, a medical alert was published in which vaccinated MS patients were advised to obtain a booster shot. The advice came from Prof. Gavin Giovannoni, a leading neurologist studying several MS issues at the prestigious Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry. Dr. Giovannoni advised that MS patients taking anti-CD20 or S1P modulator medications “are more vulnerable because of blunted vaccine responses to the COVID-19 vaccines.”1
He further emphasized the need for MS patients to obtain the vaccine plus a booster because of the high incidence of vaccinated persons becoming infected with the delta variant.1
Are you taking one of these meds?
Dr. Giovanni also recommended delaying the next dose of certain MS therapies, if possible.1 (We will check with Cathy’s neurologist, as you should check with your healthcare professional before changing any medications). But it is probably a good idea to consult with your neurologist if you are taking one of these medications:
- Ublituximab (in clinical trials)
This is not an exhaustive list of medications, and nothing herein is intended to be medical advice. My wife and I will meet with her treating neurologist before taking any steps to further her health. The bottom line is that MS patients and their support partners need not live in fear during these challenging times. We need to follow developments and be vigilant.
Do you ever swear you smell smoke or cigarettes but there's nothing there?