MS and the Shingles Vaccine: Can They Go Together?

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MS and shingles vaccine


A post on another website, asking about whether it was wise for someone with Multiple Sclerosis to receive the shingles vaccine, caught my attention the other day.

“Have any of you had the Shingles vaccine? I’m still debating about it. I’m concerned about insulting my immune system further, as my last flu shot triggered a relapse. Any advice or experiences would be greatly appreciated.”

I was particularly interested in this because I received the shingles vaccine about three years ago. My primary care doc had recommended it, and my neuro had no concern about it. The shingles vaccine has had no obvious impact to my symptoms, test results, or the course of my disease. But, the journalist in me prompted me to look for some facts before I responded to that poster.

I started my search with our own Multiple Sclerosis News Today website, which published a story a couple of years ago about MS and vaccines in general. Quoting a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the story reported that the study could find no link between vaccinations and an increased risk of MS. That’s not quite the same as a link between a vaccine and MS progression, or an exacerbation, so I looked deeper.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society in the U.S. has an excellent page about all kinds of vaccines and their use by MS patients. Regarding Zostavax, the shingles vaccine, it says (the underlining is mine):

“MS neurologists do not recommend live-virus vaccines for people with MS because these vaccines can lead to an increase in disease activity. However, Zostavax is an exception because most people have had chicken pox earlier in their lives and therefore already have the virus in their bodies.”

The MS Society cautions, of course, that “each person needs to discuss the potential benefits and risks of this vaccine with her or his healthcare provider.”

I’ll bet the neuro of the poster who I quoted at the start of this column may have based his advice on the live-virus concern without taking into account the caveat about Zostavax.

As the MS Society page makes clear, there are some concerns about using live-virus vaccines to inoculate MS patients.  And a small study published back in 2011 found that there may be a connection between the Yellow Fever vaccine and MS exacerbations.

Bottom line: When it comes to vaccines, it’s prudent to check with all of your docs, and to do your own research before getting jabbed. Then each individual needs to weigh the risks versus the benefits.

[You can read more of my column on my personal website:]

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.

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Ed Tobias is a retired broadcast journalist. Most of his 40+ year career was spent as a manager with the Associated Press in Washington, DC. Tobias was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1980 but he continued to work, full-time, meeting interesting people and traveling to interesting places, until retiring at the end of 2012.
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  1. Mitzi J. Sampson, M.D. , D.A.B.F.P., F.A.A.F.P. says:

    Thanks for publishing this Mr. Ed Tobias.

    Live and live-attenuated ( weakened) vaccines do trigger a small immune response even if you already have a dormant ( sleeping) form of the virus in your body. I

    In most people, the vaccine effects and risks are much more desired than the disease itself.

    Shingles tends to spread a bit larger in distribution in immunosuppressed persons. So, you would need to take into account where you are in your disease and treatment.

    • Ed TobiasEd Tobias says:

      Hi Dr. Sampson,

      Thanks so much for your comment. My purpose in writing this column was to present information from reliable sources in response to the question that I saw elsewhere. The information that you’ve provided will add to that effort.

      Though there haven’t yet been other comments on this web site, there have been many from patients on the MS News Today Facebook page. I’m quite surprised at the diversity of information that these MS patients are receiving from their physicians, not only about the Shingles vaccine but also about whether it’s advisable to receive a yearly flu shot. Of course, this advice may vary because of the meds these folks are on and other variables but it does seem to along both ends of the spectrum.

      I’m certain that your information will add to the ability of our readers to make the best possible decisions for themselves.

      I appreciate your taking the time to write.


  2. I was very interested in this article as I have MS and was recommended by a dermatologist to have the Shingles vaccine but I was very unsure after having the flu jab last year made me very ill for a month, after speaking to my MS nurse she said did you have the live or non live vaccination? I didn’t know? I wasn’t told by anyone to get the non live jab? No questions were asked about any illnesses? There is not enough communications between doctors and neurologists and meanwhile it can cause unnecessary suffering for us that trust everyone in the medical profession, I won’t be having the shingles vaccine or the flu jab this year 😐

    • Ed TobiasEd Tobias says:

      Hi Sarah,

      Thanks for your comment. I’ve always been required to answer several questions about my health and allergies before I received a flu shot. The same when I received my shingles and pneumonia vaccines. It seems strange that whoever gave you your flu shot didn’t do this. I’d suggest that anyone who has a chronic disease, such as MS, be proactive and provide this information to any medical professional who give you any kind of treatment…including something as seemingly simple as a flu shot. Though we shouldn’t have to do this, we need to look out for ourselves.


  3. Greetings Ed, you have a truly legitimate concern, reason being I’ve had M.S. for about 27 years now, 10 years before I was diagnosed I was told. I’m now in week 8 of getting the Shingles virus. By the Grace of God, for me it now pretty much all gone. All that remains are the horrible memories of what I went through. The virus attacked my weekest nerve root, which was my right-side Trigeminal nerve root, giving me lesions all on the right-side of my face, scalp, and eye. During the episode, I also developed a severe sensitivity to sun light from the virus. I remained indoors in the air-conditioning, during one of the best summers we’ve had in a long time here in NY. If I knew at the time what I now know, I would have researched it more like you are doing now, and might have taken the vaccine, OR, at least asked my Dr. to prescribe Klonipin, to keep me from stressing out. I have the Klonipin now to keep me from getting stressed in the future. I only take a half of the pill, when I believe I need to, when I feel stress coming on. Like Terry Bradshaw says on that Shingles commercial..”you dont want it!”. My eye was saved though I had 20 lesions on my cornia.
    Please do everything you can to find a way to take that vaccine. I now tell everyone I know, w/out autoimmune diseases to get the vaccine. If you Google it, you will read of all the horror stories. A lot of people who’ve had the virus, have had ongoing problems, all from the virus for years after. I sure hope the researchers find a Shingles vaccine acceptable for compromised immune systems.

    • Ed TobiasEd Tobias says:

      Hello Rick,

      Thanks for taking the time to post some comments. To be clear, at the beginning of my column I was quoting someone else who had a concern about the shingles vaccine. Both my primary doc and my neurologist advised me to get the vaccine a few years ago and my wife and I both did. I had no problems with it. I wrote the column so that people with MS would be aware that there are differing opinions about getting a shingles vaccine shot. I can’t advise them whether or not to get one but I can help them understand that they need to really explore their options.


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