Medicine & Research

MS and the Flu Shot

By Matt Cavallo, MPH
This cold and flu season has the potential to be different than any other because of the presence of COVID-19. While we know there can be differences, according to the CDC, there are also some similarities between influenza and COVID-19. Both are contagious viruses that affect the respiratory system. Both can cause fever, coughing, aches and pains, among other symptoms. Both can also lead to hospitalizations and death. One stark difference is that there is a yearly vaccine available today for the flu.

The similarities between the initial symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are a cause for concern. It is not a stretch to think that as flu season arrives, primary care physicians are going to be inundated with people who have flu-like symptoms.

As a person living with multiple sclerosis on an immune-modulating MS treatment, I really don’t want to visit my doctor right now if I can avoid it, because I am afraid of being exposed. Not that the doctor’s office wouldn’t be clean, but there is always the possibility of a virus in the air from all the people with flu-like symptoms coming and going. In this cold and flu season, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That is why I am going to be getting my flu shot early. I want to make sure that I take every precaution I can to prevent the flu.

While there are varying opinions on the efficacy of the flu vaccine, the CDC recommends that everyone older than six months of age receive a flu vaccine. Furthermore, the American Academy of Neurology recommends that all people living with multiple sclerosis receive a flu shot each year unless they have a specific reason for why they cannot get it. However, the AAN recommends against FluMist, which is an inhaled vaccine, because it contains a live virus and because of risks that can be associated with certain MS treatments. This makes it a good idea to check in with your neurologist if you prefer the nasal mist over the injectable flu vaccine.

There are many myths surrounding the flu vaccine. There are recent studies that show the flu vaccine reduces risk of the flu from 40 to 60 percent. In a year where there is a potentially bigger risk because of COVID-19, getting a flu shot for people living with MS makes a lot of sense. You may think differently and that’s okay. I would, however, urge you to check in with your neurologist or PCP to see if they recommend that you get a flu shot.

Living with MS is uncertain. The COVID-19 reality adds even more uncertainty. Studies suggest that the flu shot is safe for people living with MS. Give yourself a shot at staying healthy this cold and flu season.