Once summer is over, the medical powers that be will be urging people to have this year’s vaccination against having whichever is predicted to be the strain of this winter’s influenza outbreak. Last year, the vaccine was said to offer some protection against four different strains.
It seems that most countries’ health advisers recommend that everyone with MS is immunized against flu. In fact in the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that everyone aged six and over should be protected. Meanwhile, in the UK, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) guideline for MS recommends that “people with MS should be offered immunisation against influenza”.
Current research suggests that getting a flu jab is a good idea, because when a person with MS has a raised body temperature, such as a fever, their symptoms often feel worse. According to the MS Society in the UK, approximately a third of people with MS who develop flu have a relapse within six weeks.
The question remains, however, do we want such vaccines. Well, ultimately, doctors can only advise. The decision is an individual one for each of us.
Let’s look at the pros and cons.
Obviously the biggest, and really the only, pro is that the vaccine gives some protection from infection with the flu virus. As far as anybody with MS is concerned, the MS Society says: “There is good evidence that such immunizations do not cause relapses.”
But there are reasons not to have the flu jab, the first one being that no vaccine is 100% efficient, so protection from infection is not guaranteed. Then many people are convinced that the vaccine actually makes them ill by actually giving them flu. Scientifically, however, as the vaccines are not manufactured from live virus, such infection is impossible. But the recipient may well feel under the weather for a few days.
There actually may be very good reasons not to have the flu jab, such as:
- MS patients having a relapse you might need to wait until your symptoms stabilize or get better before you have the jab.
- Anyone who has a serious allergy to hens’ eggs shouldn’t get vaccinated without consulting a doctor.
- Anyone taking drugs such as natalizumab (Tysabri), mitoxantrone, azathioprine or alemtuzumab, should ask a neurologist for advice.
Both Lisa ad I have had the flu jab in the last few years, me because I have MS, she because she is my carer as well as my wife. This year? I am undecided. Do you have an annual flu vaccination? I’d love to receive your views.