National MS Society Encourages Patients to Get COVID-19 Vaccine
Most patients with relapsing and progressive forms of multiple sclerosis (MS) are encouraged to get vaccinated against COVID-19 — and any vaccine of three authorized for use in the U.S. is safe to receive — according to recent guidance from the National MS Society.
Despite mounting evidence that COVID-19 vaccines pose little to no risk to patients with MS and may be taken with disease-modifying therapies, many people with the neurodegenerative disease are seeking peace of mind on their safety and effectiveness.
In an effort to provide fact-based recommendations, the National MS Society arranged for a group of expert researchers and healthcare professionals to come together to review the available studies.
Nancy Sicotte, MD, chair of the National MS Society’s National Medical Advisory Committee, and one of the individuals consulted in the creation of the vaccine guidance, offered her expert reaction in a press release from Cedars-Sinai, a hospital in Los Angeles.
“The big takeaway message is the COVID-19 vaccine is strongly recommended for patients with multiple sclerosis,” said Sicotte, also director of Cedars-Sinai Multiple Sclerosis and Neuroimmunology Program. “If you have an opportunity to get a vaccine, get it — and the sooner, the better.”
Patients with progressive MS, those who are older, those who have a physical disability, those with coexisting chronic conditions like diabetes, and Black and Hispanic people are especially encouraged to get the vaccine shots as soon as possible. The experts note that these patients fall into the group of people at the highest risk for hospitalization due to COVID-19 should they be diagnosed with it.
“While everyone should consult their own physician if they have questions, the vast majority of people with chronic illnesses can and should be vaccinated against COVID-19,” said Michael Ben-Aderet, MD, associate medical director of hospital epidemiology for Cedars-Sinai.
According to the guidance, all three vaccines currently available in the U.S. are recommended. These vaccines are made by Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna, and Janssen/Johnson & Johnson.
“There is no vaccine preference for those living with MS,” the guidance states.
One point of concern for patients with MS is whether the vaccine against COVID-19 can be combined with their current prescriptions. While the majority of disease-modifying therapies are not expected to affect the response to the vaccine, some may make the vaccine less effective. However, the vaccine will still provide protection.
“Unless your healthcare provider advises against it, patients who get the COVID-19 vaccine should continue taking their disease-modifying therapies,” Sicotte said. “Any protection is better than no protection.”
Coordinating the timing of disease-modifying therapies with vaccine administration may secure the best response to the vaccine, the guidance suggests.
The current guidance is based on data from the general population as well as from studies of other vaccines given to patients with MS. Updates will be made as new information on the vaccines becomes available.