In the past there has been concern over the potential effect of vaccinations on people with multiple sclerosis. Research has failed to find evidence to support these concerns.
A study in France published in 2001 compared the relapse history of 643 people with MS with their vaccinations against tetanus, hepatitis B or influenza. The study found no evidence that vaccination increased the short-term risk of a relapse.
In 2011, Argentinian researchers found that the risk of developing MS remained unchanged after vaccinations for BCG, hepatitis B, influenza, MMR, polio and typhoid fever. Their results suggested that diphtheria and tetanus vaccination may be associated with a decreased risk of MS.
A separate study by the same team, which involved only seven people, found that the yellow fever vaccine significantly increased the relapse risk.
A study published in 2014 found no association between the hepatitis B or human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines and an increased risk of multiple sclerosis up to three years after vaccination.
There are a few exceptionally rare complications of the vaccinations themselves but the risk of these occurring are the same for people with MS as in the general population. There is strong evidence for infections increasing the risk of a relapse.
- People who are unwell eg experiencing a debilitating relapse may be advised to defer vaccination. This is because it will be difficult to tell the difference between the symptoms of the relapse or other illness and a bad reaction to the vaccine.
- People on therapies that suppress the immune system, such as mitoxantrone, azathioprine, methotrexate, cyclophosphamide or steroids should not receive 'live' vaccines as they may be at greater risk for developing the disease. Make sure that your doctor is aware of all the medications you are taking.
- New England Journal of Medicine 2001;344(5):319-326. Full article Vaccinations and the risk of relapse in multiple sclerosis. Vaccines in Multiple Sclerosis Study Group.
- Neurology 2002;59(12):1837-1843. Full article Immunization and MS: a summary of published evidence and recommendations.
- Brain 2002;125(5):952-960. Full article Prospective study on the relationship between infections and multiple sclerosis exacerbations.
- Journal of Neurology 2011;258(7):1197-1206. Summary Immunizations and risk of multiple sclerosis: systematic review and meta-analysis.
- Archives of Neurology 2011;68(10):1267-1271. Full article Yellow fever vaccination and increased relapse rate in travelers with multiple sclerosis.
- JAMA Neurology 2014;71(12):1506-1513. Summary Vaccines and the risk of multiple sclerosis and other central nervous system demyelinating diseases.
Last updated: 5 November 2014
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