Flu Shot or No Flu Shot for MS Patients?

Ed Tobias avatar

by Ed Tobias |

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flu shot

It’s that time of year again. The time of year where I keep seeing posts on MS social media posts asking, “should I get a flu shot?”

In my honest opinion, yes, definitely! There are certainly different opinions about this, but I think that my opinion is the same as that of nearly any doctor that you’ll ask. For example, here’s a what a couple of doctors have to say in a U.S. News and World Report article that’s specifically about MS and the flu:

Dr. Robert Shin, director of the Georgetown Multiple Sclerosis and Neuroimmunology Center: “The flu infection may stimulate the immune system, which may in turn trigger an MS attack.” Shin says that getting the flu, or any illness, raises that chance that you’ll have a relapse or a worsening of your symptoms.

Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease specialist with the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security: “When you see flu outbreaks, you see MS relapses.” 

If you just think about what happens to your body in hot weather, or when you have a fever, then the flu-MS connection should be clear.

The flu shot doesn’t give you the flu

Are you worried that getting a flu shot can give you the flu, or make you sick with something else? Doctors say don’t be. The flu shot uses a killed virus to protect you against the flu. So it’s highly unlikely that the vaccine will give you the flu. In fact, Dr. Shin says “infection really is impossible.”

On the other hand, the nasal flu vaccine is created from a live virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends against anyone using the nasal vaccine, because there are concerns about its effectiveness.

Since the flu vaccine takes about two weeks to become fully effective, it’s possible that some people who’ve had a shot will still get the flu. There have also been some years where the vaccine hasn’t been a good match for the strain of flu that was prevalent in those years. This may lead some people to believe that the shot gave them the flu when, in fact, it didn’t. It just, for whatever reason, failed to protect them from catching it.

For a lot more detail…

Here are a few places where you can obtain more information:

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

National Multiple Sclerosis Society

A “STAT News” story, with an international overview

Of course, you should always check with your own doctor.

My wife and I got our flu shots over a month ago, just as we’ve been getting them for many years. Neither of us has ever had a problem.

(I invite you to follow my personal blog at: www.themswire.com)


Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.


Jan avatar


I just got my second-ever flu shot this week, along with a shingles vaccine. After getting an okay from my neuro, it seemed like the right move. Husband has shingles now and I didn’t want to risk activating my SPMS.

ayale88 avatar


I have had quite the opposite experience with flu shots. I have been told for many years not to get the flu shot since I was diagnosed in 2001. The story then changed with my neurologist and I received a flu shot in 2013 and had a relapse and was hospitalized within weeks. My neurologist thought it may have been a coincidence and encouraged me again in 2014 to get another flu shot. The same series of events followed and I relapsed once again with another hospitalization but now with further disability. I was told at that time that since I had no relapses during the 12 years I didn't have a flu shot and didn't experience any relapses to now once again avoid the flu shot. I was told this was an "auto-immune response" and not to further take a chance with my health.

E. Johnson avatar

E. Johnson

What I was 32 years old I had what they thought was a flu complication. I am now 62 and was just diagnosed this summer as having MS. I was gradually getting weak in my legs but I have come to a halt with that. In other words I'm in stasis. 9 years ago I had a flu shot and 4 days after the flu shot I woke up and was numb on my left side not paralyzed just numb. I reported it to my neurologist and he told me not to get a flu shot he didn't elaborate. Even though it's a dead virus I think some families are more sensitive to immunizations than others. my son had a similar experience shortly after he turned 32 he had the flu and then had paralytic symptoms. it resolved but the doctor said he doesn't have MS most likely but he should be aware that maybe there is a sensitivity in the family to the flu and flu shots. I cross my fingers every year and so far I have not gotten the flu but I was a little surprised he told me not to get a flu shot.

william nye avatar

william nye

well, I got the flu shot this year and that night and for the next 3 days I suffered a fever which allowed me to fall and hurt myself, become uncoordinated and to generally feel lousy. Not me!

Gwen Halcyon avatar

Gwen Halcyon

I get the flu jab every year. No problems.

Marc Sable avatar

Marc Sable

My Neurologist of 12 years told me not to get the Flu shot. He said why would I add a foreign agent to an already compromised immune system. I've never had the shot and never had the Flu, just lucky I guess.

Tim avatar


My Doctors, both PCP and Neuro both highly recommend I get one. I never really got the flu much, but I figure that anything I can do to help keep my Immune System from having to ramp up to much is a good thing.

Cathey Thomas avatar

Cathey Thomas

I started getting flu shots every year as a child in the early 1960's and have never had even the slightest problem with them.

When I was working in a family practice office, my coworkers all got the flu itself every single year and missed at least a week of work each. But I opted for the vaccine instead and never got the full-blown flu, except for one year when I was EXTREMELY ill for a matter of HOURS one day, then I was perfectly fine again.

I realize that there's a small chance that taking ANY vaccine could cause a relapse, especially if it happens early in the course of your MS, but getting the actual FLU would be MUCH more likely to trigger a relapse. The flu is a nightmare so I'll always opt for the shot. I'm grateful that I can take it with no worries.

Jonah avatar


I never had the flu before...I got a flu shot at age 26 and got extremely ill with the flu immediatley. Never got one since and never had the flu since either. I am now 59 years old living with MS.

Wendy avatar


I believe my two main relapses were due to my immune system’s response to injections I received. Both relapses caused permanent damage, so I don’t get any shots that aren’t absolutely necessary.

Tlcf avatar


For starters, it is not a "killed" version of the virus but a "deactivated" version of the virus. It is put in the body and is supposed to help antibodies build to support the immune system in case of an actual viral attack. It can, however, weaken a person even further. My mom had to stay away from us when we got the shots/vax when we were younger and I got sick quite frequently after receiving them. I was just recently diagnosed with MS a little under a year ago and, no, I would not risk getting the shot knowing what I know now.


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