Shedding Light On The Flu Shot And Multiple Sclerosis

Every year as summer draws to a close our thoughts turn to the coming flu season, and whether we should get a flu shot.

There are some who question whether a flu shot can actually cause the flu.  Others wonder how bad the upcoming flu season will be, and if they don’t get a shot what their chances will be of catching the flu.

Let’s take a look at what the flu shot is and isn’t, and whether getting it is right for you.

What is the flu shot?

The flu shot is a single preparation that contains inactive vaccines, or dead viruses, protecting against three influenza viruses most common in the upcoming flu season. There is the H3N2 virus, an influenza B virus and H1N1 virus.  When you receive this year’s flu shot, you will be receiving one shot to fight against all three viruses.

Who can get a flu shot?

The flu vaccine is recommended for anyone over the age of six, and may be taken if you are currently on any of the FDA approved MS medications.  However, it is not yet known whether the vaccine is as effective if you are taking Natalizumab (Tysabri) or Fingolimod (Gilenya).

If you are experiencing an exacerbation and are unable to carry out “normal” daily tasks, it is recommended to hold off getting the flu shot until 4 – 6 weeks after the onset of the relapse.

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What about the FluMist®? 

The FluMist® is a live-virus flu vaccine that, as its name indicates, is delivered as a nasal spray.  It is not recommended for people with MS.  The activity in this live virus has been reduced but not eliminated, so those with MS should avoid the FluMist®.

Are seniors able to receive a stronger dose of the flu vaccine? 

There is a higher-dose flu vaccine available for people over age 65, yet it has not been studied for that age group.  The CDC does not recommend getting the higher-dose vaccine instead of the seasonal flu shot.

Are there special considerations?

Yes.  The following information is provided by The National Multiple Sclerosis Society*:

  • People on therapies that suppress the immune system (immunosuppressants), such as mitoxantrone (Novantrone), azathioprine (Imuran), methotrexate (Trexall), cyclophosphamide (i.e. Cytoxan) and/or chronic corticosteroid therapy should consult their neurologist before taking any live-virus vaccine. A person with a suppressed immune system would be at greater risk for developing the disease.
  • Inactivated vaccines are generally considered safe for individuals who are taking an interferon medication, glatiramer acetate (Copaxone), mitoxantrone (Novantrone), natalizumab (Tysabri), or fingolimod (Gilenya).
  • People who have received immune globulin preparation in the past three months may not receive the full effect of a vaccine.  A recent study demonstrated that teriflunomide-treated patients (Aubagio) generally mounted effective immune responses to seasonal influenza vaccination1.

According to Dr. Aaron Miller, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s Chief Medical Officer, “The flu virus (like any other virus) can precipitate MS exacerbations, and people with limited mobility are more likely to develop complications of the flu, including pneumonia.”  He recommends getting the flu shot as a safe and effective vaccination for people with MS.

Speak with your doctor about getting a flu shot this year.  Discuss any concerns you have about getting one.  Doing your homework and speaking with your doctor is the best way to prepare yourself for the upcoming flu season.2-4

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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