Why a Flu Shot Is More Important Than Ever This Year

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by Ed Tobias |

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Labor Day has come and gone here in the U.S. Now, flu season has arrived in the Northern Hemisphere. This isn’t the novel coronavirus we’ve been fighting all year. It’s the regular seasonal flu virus that’s knocking on our door again.

Each year, some people with multiple sclerosis (MS) wonder if they should get a flu shot. My wife and I have been getting one for as long as I can remember. We’ve never had a problem other than an occasional sore arm. We’ve never come down with the flu.

My neurologist and our primary care physician both recommend getting the flu vaccine. So do MS organizations, including the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in the U.S. and the MS Society in the U.K. And this year, because of the possibility of a double-whammy virus season, doctors say the flu vaccine is more necessary than ever.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has even posted a large notice on the top of its Key Facts About Seasonal Flu website page:

(Screenshot via cdc.gov)

The vaccine is helpful, not harmful, according to the CDC. The agency writes, “There is no evidence that getting a flu vaccine increases your risk of getting sick from a coronavirus, like the one that causes COVID-19.”

A Canadian study published in May responds to an inaccurately reported association between the flu vaccination and COVID-19, which supports the CDC’s position.

“Vaccine significantly reduced the risk of influenza illness by >40% with no effect on coronaviruses or other NIRV [noninfluenza respiratory virus] risk,” researchers wrote.

Guidelines give flu shot OK for most people with MS

Last year, the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) updated its flu vaccine guidelines, making it clear that, with very few exceptions, the benefits of flu and other vaccines for people with MS far outweigh any risks. But, the AAN guidelines caution:

  • A flu shot may not work as well as expected for some people who are receiving particular disease-modifying treatments, such as Gilenya (fingolimod), Copaxone (glatiramer acetate injection), and Novantrone (mitoxantrone for injection concentrate).
  • MS patients should delay scheduling a vaccination during a relapse to avoid the possibility that the vaccine might trigger complications.
  • Do not use the nasal spray flu vaccine, FluMist, as it contains a “live, attenuated” virus, which isn’t recommended for people with MS.

A half-dozen varieties of flu vaccine are available this season, and unlike some other years, the CDC isn’t expressing a preference. But as the AAN guidelines say, people with MS should not use a live virus vaccine. This means no nasal vaccine for us.

Flu vaccines help others, too

Getting a flu vaccine is more than just a matter of protecting yourself.

“Historically, less than half of Americans get flu vaccines,” CDC Director Robert Redfield told Time in June. “This is the year that I’m asking the American public to seriously reconsider, because that decision may make available a hospital bed for somebody else that really needs it for COVID.”

Not everyone will agree with recommendations to get a flu shot. Not everyone agrees with the recommendation of public health officials to wear a face mask, either. But both are the right thing to do.

You’re invited to visit 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, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.


Beth Stone avatar

Beth Stone

When is the best time to get the flu shot?

Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

Hi Beth,

It's something for you to ask your doctor, really, but I can tell you that my wife and I usually get ours in September or October. Any earlier and it might wear off before the end of flu season and any later and you're further into the season than I'd want to be. Remember, it takes about two weeks for a flu shot to become effective. You can find more info here: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/season/faq-flu-season-2020-2021.htm


Tim avatar


Its quite startling really. I used to get the Flu like clockwork every year. But after I got sick enough to land in the hospital with my 2nd clinically presenting MS relapse that gave me my diagnosis they also asked if I wanted a Flu shot while I was in inpatient rehab. I said sure, and wonder of wonders I didn't get the flu that year.

I've gotten it every year since and its like Flu was just switched off for me.

Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

Very interesting, Tim. Thanks for sharing.



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