MS is an autoimmune disorder, meaning certain components of one’s immune system are attacking the body of a person with MS, in this case the myelin in the central nervous system. I’m curious what made my immune system turn against me. I’m even more curious about what I can do to slow this down, or at least not make it worse. Since vaccines work by stimulating or manipulating the immune system in some way, I have wondered if it is a good idea to get them or not, as a person with MS.
Wanting to see what the thinking was about vaccines and multiple sclerosis out in the medical community, I checked out the article about risk factors for multiple sclerosis on UpToDate -- an electronic reference used by many physicians who encounter patients with suspected MS or other neurological disorders.
See what UpToDate has to say, then read on for answers to questions you may have about what all of this means for you.
The Role of Vaccines in Multiple Sclerosis Risk: An Explanation from UpToDate
“Because the pathogenesis of MS is thought to involve the immune system, it has been hypothesized that a stimulus of the immune system (eg, a vaccine) may trigger the disease. However, substantial evidence exists that there is no association between vaccines and MS.
Although a later, well-designed, case-control study found an increased risk of MS in patients who had received hepatitis B vaccination, the indisputable large benefit of this vaccine far outweighs the possible and still unproven risk of developing MS that the vaccine may carry.”
- Two well-designed studies seemingly refuted the possible link: one finding no association between hepatitis B vaccination and the development of MS and the other finding no association between several different vaccines and disease relapse in patients with MS.
- A systematic review of nine case-control studies found a negative association between tetanus vaccination and the risk of MS (odds ratio 0.67; 95% CI 0.55-0.81).
- A summary of published evidence (through January 2001) supported the safety of vaccination in patients with MS, and a subsequent case-control study found no association between several different vaccines and the development of MS and/or optic neuritis.
Your Questions: AnsweredFully understanding what this means will not only give you a better sense of what the scientific evidence shows about the link between vaccines and MS, but it will help you be better able to discuss your situation with your doctor about future vaccines.
So, Does That Mean Vaccines Played No Role in My Developing MS?Even though there seems to be no direct cause-effect relationship between vaccines and MS, it is almost impossible to say that vaccines played NO role in certain people developing MS. I don’t know for sure (and neither does anyone else, no matter what they tell you) what exactly causes MS. It is a combination of things that gets us to MS, most likely some genetic vulnerability, combined with some factor that makes our bodies inefficient at metabolizing vitamin D, combined with an infection that gets our immune system “riled up” in the wrong way, combined with… Well, you get the picture. Sure, for some of us, vaccines might have been one of the ingredients in the mix, but we will probably never know.
As a Parent With MS, Should I Be Concerned About Vaccinating My Child?No. As mentioned before, there is a genetic component of MS, and that does increase your child’s risk for MS from a 1 in 750 chance in the general population to a 1 in 100 (or 1%) chance as the offspring of a person with MS. However, since the link between MS and vaccines is very, very weak at best, avoiding vaccines for your child in an attempt to “protect” him or her is not a good strategy for many reasons.
The danger of developing the diseases that vaccines prevent far outweighs the theoretical (and tiny) contribution of vaccines to someone developing MS. These vaccines have saved countless lives and huge amounts of suffering, especially the childhood immunizations.