Regional Medical Director, Neurology and Immunology, North America, EMD Serono
Dr. Sarah A. Morrow
Director, London MS Clinic
While we still face challenges in the fight against COVID-19, Canada’s vaccine roll-out is an important step to help prevent the disease.
If you have multiple sclerosis (MS), you may be wondering if you should get a COVID-19 vaccine. While data on the vaccines’ safety and effectiveness specifically for people with MS isn’t yet available, international expert researchers and medical professionals recommend that people with MS get the vaccine. Current evidence suggests that the available vaccines aren’t likely to trigger an MS relapse or have any impact on long-term disease progression. Health care providers are constantly monitoring to see if any new information comes to light.i The guidance is based on data collected from the general population and prior experience in vaccinating people with MS, says Caroline Lemieux, Regional Medical Director of Neurology and Immunology, North America at EMD Serono.
Get a vaccine as soon as it’s available
COVID-19 vaccines can be given to people with MS, says Dr. Sarah A. Morrow, Director of the London MS Clinic in London, ON. “We administer non-live vaccines to people with MS regularly, such as the influenza vaccine or the shingles vaccine, without any issues,” she says, adding that the risk of COVID-19 outweighs any potential risks from the COVID-19 vaccine.
People living with MS aren’t at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 or at higher risk of a serious or severe outcome if they’re exposed to the virus, says Dr. Morrow. However, some medications used in MS affect the immune system.i “This can increase the risk of developing complications from COVID-19,”i says Dr. Morrow.
While people with MS are no more likely than the general population to develop COVID-19 or to become severely ill or die from the virus, some groups are more susceptible to a severe case. This includes people with progressive MS, those with MS who are over the age of 60, men with MS, Black and South Asian people with MS, those with higher levels of disability, and people with MS who have certain medical conditions (obesity, diabetes, or heart or lung disease).
Stay up to date with your usual MS care
Dr. Morrow suggests checking out the MS Society of Canada’s website for reliable information regarding MS and COVID-19, including vaccination advice. “Each health unit is rolling out the vaccine differently, so checking your local health unit website regularly would also be useful. Talking to your neurologist is also very important,” she says, adding that it’s vital to continue your usual MS care.
Lemieux adds that people with MS should also continue rehabilitation activities and stay active as much as possible, whether through remote sessions or in clinics, where available. She looks forward to a time when Canadians can get back to more of these activities.
“It’s very exciting to see vaccines roll out to people with MS across Canada,” says Lemieux. “All of us have a personal responsibility to do a number of things that help slow the spread of the virus as quickly as possible.”
This article was made possible with support from a research-based pharmaceutical company.
iMS International Federation – Global COVID-19 advice for people with MS. Accessed April 2021 from: msif.org/news/2020/02/10/the-coronavirus-and-ms-what-you-need-to-know/