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The flu vaccine and MS - what you need to know

Laura Amiss-Smith (No Background).pngLaura from MS-UK’s Helpline has the lowdown on this year’s flu vaccine

The flu vaccine is offered to anyone with a long-term health condition and this includes multiple sclerosis (MS). It is free on the NHS.

The flu vaccine is not a live virus and therefore cannot cause you to have the illness. There are different types of flu vaccine and you will be offered the one that is more effective for you, depending on your age. Sometimes people may feel an ache in their arm, but if you experience cold or flu symptoms, then the chances are it was already in your system.

Covid-19

This year it is seen as even more important to vaccinate against the flu due to Covid-19. If Covid-19 cases continue to rise, higher cases of flu could potentially overwhelm NHS services.

People with MS are more at risk of becoming unwell with flu. Having the vaccine not only reduces the risk of getting flu but, if you do catch it, it is likely you will have a much milder case.

You may have already been contacted by your GP surgery to book in for a flu jab. If not, then contact them to make an appointment. If you are worried about visiting the GP surgery in the current climate, perhaps speak to them to see if they are able to make a home visit.

If you are a carer of a person with MS, you are also eligible for a free flu vaccine.

Precautions

If you are having a relapse, you’ve recently taken steroids for a relapse or are taking certain disease-modifying therapies then you may need to discuss having a flu vaccine with your medical team. Precautions may be needed in these cases.

Specialist MS neurologist, Professor Gavin Giovannoni, says on his research blog that he is hopeful the behavioural changes we have made around Covid-19 will also have a positive impact on the figures for flu. Social distancing, wearing masks, and washing and sanitising our hands much more will help to prevent the spread of flu.

One thing he highlights is that if you are a severely immunosuppressed person with MS (you have recently been treated with alemtuzumab or HSCT), and have small children, please make sure they do not have the live nasal flu vaccine at school. This could expose you to flu via the live vaccine.

For anyone worried about having the flu vaccine, Professor Giovannoni also says that it is the most studied vaccine in people with MS and it has been shown to be safe, and it does not trigger relapses and/or MRI activity.