Influenza, Vaccinations, MS

Influenza, Vaccinations, MS

Engaging Thoughts

Should those of us with multiple sclerosis get vaccinated for influenza or not? It’s a debate that takes place in many MS communities each fall. The argument against the flu immunization is based on half-truths and flat-out misconceptions — and a lot of anecdotal tales that don’t hold up to the science on vaccinations. So, here is a brief primer of important facts about the influenza (flu) vaccine.

Every year the World Health Organization (WHO)  has over 100 sites around the world that collect samples of the influenza viruses that are circulating in their local area. They send the samples to five WHO Collaborating Centers for Reference and Research on Influenza that include the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, and sites in London, Melbourne, Tokyo, and Beijing.  After much research and trial, a decision is reached regarding what might be the best possible vaccine to give us protection for the coming flu season.  This decision is made twice a year because the flu season, when the disease is most common, occurs differently in the Southern and Northern hemispheres.

Not only are the labs trying to base their work on known viruses, there are always new strains of influenza entering our world. They are making decisions based on historical data. The flu vaccines are usually 50-60 percent effective in preventing the flu. There are two big factors for why this number is not higher. First is the general health of the person getting the vaccination. Second is the chance that the virus strain that the immunization is designed for is actually the one present in our community.

The CDC has a compelling list of reasons why we should all get vaccinated, if it is medically approved by our doctors.  Their list includes:

  • Flu vaccination can keep you from getting sick with flu.
  • Flu vaccination can reduce the risk of flu-associated hospitalization, including among children and older adults.
  • Flu vaccination is an important preventive tool for people with chronic health conditions.
    • Vaccination was associated with lower rates of some cardiac events among people with heart disease, especially among those who had a cardiac event in the past year.
    • Flu vaccination also has been shown to be associated with reduced hospitalizations among people with diabetes (79%) and chronic lung disease (52%).
  • Flu vaccination also may make your illness milder if you do get sick.

If all of this makes sense, why is getting the flu vaccine a topic of debate for people with MS? There is a certain faction in our society that believes all vaccines are toxic. Despite all the scientific evidence otherwise, they continue to argue against vaccinations as ways we can protect ourselves and others.

Another reason is the misconception that we can get the flu from the flu vaccine – that is absolutely false. The flu shot is a combination of dead viruses and there is no way you get the flu from the shot. When people say they got the flu from the shot, they may have already been coming down with the flu, or one of other flu-like illnesses. The nasal spray form of the flu immunization is a live virus, and should not be taken by people with MS.  Due to manufacturing problems, the live nasal form will not be available for the 2016-27 flu season.

Why do I get the flu shot? Have you ever had true influenza? My last go-round with this nasty germ left me lying in bed for days, with the covers pulled over my head to block out any light and stop the violent shivering from a high fever. I couldn’t eat or drink and felt like, at any moment, death would be a better outcome than more time spent suffering with the flu. Many people say they had the flu, but it is almost always a different virus with significantly less potent effects.

I know I am extremely heat-sensitive thanks to my MS, and anytime I have a little spike to my core temperature my ability to walk and even think clearly is affected. Being under high body temps usually associated with the flu could be devastating and not a chance I want to take. My immune system is already on heightened alert. Allowing the flu virus into my body means an all-out war could occur and create the perfect storm for a relapse.

The National MS Society has more information on vaccines and their proven safety for people with MS. Of course, as always, it is recommended that you talk to your doctors to be sure there is no other underlying reason why you should not get vaccinated.

Finally, I get the flu vaccine to help protect others who can’t take it, such as infants or the elderly with other health problems. The more of us who get vaccinated, the better we protect everyone around us (often called protection of the herd.)  It’s the least I can do – I’m helping to keep myself and others well. I hope you will engage in this easy-to-do wellness action and get vaccinated for the coming season.

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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7 comments

  1. Terri says:

    Have to admit, I’m scared to death of the flu vaccine. I have MS, and I believe it was October, 2005, when I had my last flu vaccine. I felt great when I arrived for my shot. I discussed my health issues/concerns, and was guaranteed the shot was necessary, and safe for me. Also told that that it was a dead virus, and in no way could I get sick from it. I had the shot.
    Within an hour, I was burning up with fever of 103-4, and so sick, I literally crawled back and forth to the bathroom for 3 days. Excuse me, but I have no desire to repeat this experience.

  2. Dana says:

    I was diagnosed with MS two years ago at age 59, and it hit me with a wallop – woke up one day and when I got out of bed I dropped to floor… Many MRIs and lesions later and 7 months of being bed-ridden, in came the diagnosis.
    With regard to the flu vaccine, I didn’t even know what the “flu” was until I had a vaccine at age 46 – woke up the next day and couldn’t move my legs my muscles ached so much. I was sick for a week.
    So yes, I know you can’t get the flu from the vaccine because the cells are dead but in my 60 years is it not strange that the ONLY time I’ve ever had the flu was right after a flu shot?
    Too coincidental! So no flu shot for me!

  3. Anne Hanson says:

    Hi – I can’t find support for this anywhere, but I’m trying to find someone (anyone!) else who has had this experience …

    I was diagnosed with MS 34 years ago. Thankfully, I seem to have a mild form of the disease. Though I suffer from extreme fatigue, symptoms such as optic neuritis, numbness, tingling, blurred vision, dizziness etc mainly ‘reared their ugly heads’ when I was working full time in a high-stress environment, and then when I had a premature, colicy baby (no problem with my other two). I get a vaccination for the flu – every year – without incident. I’ve also had pneumonia, so was given a vaccination for that, one for shingles, Hep A and B, tetnus boosters etc. This year, I left my regular weight workout at the YMCA to get my flu shot. The next day (24 hours later), I had to leave partway through a workout class because I felt so dizzy. That day was the start of a relapse, the like of which I hadn’t experienced in 25 years. Dizzyness, numbness (all down my left side – starting with my face), tingling, extreme fatigue etc etc etc. It lasted a month and a half (actually my left leg is still a bit numb 3 months later). I do realize that the flu shot contains only the killed virus but – is it not still requiring your immune system to ‘sit up and take notice’? Does this not, in theory, ‘awaken the lion’? I try very hard to keep inflammation low, and speak to my immune system in soothing tones, so is it not possible that – this time around – my immune system raised its dozey little head and thought there was a battle to be fought? I can’t think of any other explanation. I didn’t have a fever during this time, so I don’t believe that I picked up another virus. My husband and I now live at our cottage so – other than going ‘into town’ to attend my workouts (and liberally using hand sanitizer at all times!), I’m no longer in contact with the same crowded conditions that I was when we lived in the city. I really think that my immune system was activated by this year’s shot, and it sent my into a relapse. When we lived in the city, I facilitated a support group for women with MS. Many of them refused vaccinations for fear of causing a relapse. I always thought they were being overcautious. But now I’m a bit ‘gun shy’ about the thought of having another. Any thoughts?

    • Terri says:

      Anne Hanson ~ I also had a bad experience with the flu shot, as noted above. Decided that I’m not eager to ever repeat what I went through, following the shot. Even my doctor has exempted me from having it, knowing how sick I got immediately following. It only makes sense that they tell you not to have a flu shot if you are sick/ have a virus. They believe that MS is/could be a virus, therefore, it’s a virus pending, and could be brought out, if/when you have a flu shot. Anne, you say that you also get the shingles vaccine. From what I’ve read, it’s not a good idea for those of us who have MS. Guess it’s all a personal choice.

      • Paulette Trimble says:

        The Shingles shot is a live virus. I was told NOT to have it since I have MS. I do get the senior flu and pneumonia shots annually with no problems.

  4. Angela Murlowska says:

    We have a patient in our clinic who said she developed MS after the flu shot, but not only that, she went for the shot with 2 of her friends from school. She said, “Angela do you know they also developed MS, do you think there can be a connection?”
    I’m 58 yrs old, I’ve never had a flu shot, I never get flu and rarely colds, and I work in a clinic where sick people are coming in all the time, coughing all over me.
    I make sure my vitamin D levels are optimal and that is protective against flu without having to be injected with substances that are frankly, unhealthful.

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