Vaccines and Multiple Sclerosis

Should You Be Worried?

Vaccines Do Not Cause MS
Vaccines Do Not Cause MS. Universal Images Group/Getty Images

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. Since vaccines work by stimulating or manipulating the immune system in some way, many wonder if it is a good idea to get them or not (either out of concern for developing MS or as a person with MS).

Vaccines Do Not Cause Multiple Sclerosis

There is a lot of scientific evidence to suggest that there is no link or connection between vaccines and multiple sclerosis.

This means that vaccines have not been found to increase a person's risk of developing MS nor have vaccines been found to increase a person's risk of having a relapse (if he or she already has MS). That being said, not every vaccine has been examined in studies in people with MS.

One study to support the lack of a link between vaccines and MS is a 2014 study in JAMA Neurology. In this study an MS specialist reviewed electronic medical records from nearly 800 people who had been diagnosed with a demyelinating disorder of the brain or spinal cord from the years 2008 to 2011 in Southern California. The study found no link between MS or any other central nervous system demyelinating disorder.

To play devil's advocate here, a small 2011 study in the Archives of Neurology of seven people with MS did find an increased risk of having an MS relapse during a twelve week period following a yellow fever vaccination, as compared to the 12 months prior to the vaccination or 9 months after the vaccination.

Of course this study was quite small and needs a larger study to verify its conclusions. What can you and your neurologist take away from it? Before getting the yellow fever vaccine (which is not all that common), your doctor may weigh your true risk of getting yellow fever with the potential of developing a relapse—a careful and individualized decision.

I Already Have MS. Should I Be Worried About Getting Vaccines?

For the most part, no, you should not be worried, and there is one vaccine you definitely do not want to miss—the flu shot—which is considered safe in people with MS. The pneumococcal vaccine is also specifically recommended for people who have limited mobility or who have respiratory dysfunction, which can be a symptom of MS.

This all being said, there are certain exceptions, which include:

  • During a Relapse: The Immunization Panel of the Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Council for Clinical Practice recommends that vaccinations be delayed until people start to improve after a relapse, typically 4 to 6 weeks.
  • FluMist:The National Multiple Sclerosis Society recommends that people with MS NOT get FluMist (the flu vaccine which is a nasal spray.) This is a live virus vaccine, and could be harmful to people with MS, especially anyone taking an immunosuppressant drug.
  • Other live attenuated vaccines: These are also generally not recommended for people with MS and should be discussed with your doctor. These vaccines include: varicella (chickenpox), MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) and smallpox.
  • If You Have Taken Certain Medications: If you are on an immunosuppressant, such as mitoxantrone (Novantrone), cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan), azathioprine (Imuran), or methotrexate, you should talk to your neurologist before taking any live-vaccine. In addition, after Lemtrada, a person should also not take a live vaccine. Again, special attention needs to be paid to live attenuated virus vaccines for all people with MS, but especially people who have taken the above medications in the recent past.
  • [Note: The CRAB (Copaxone, Rebif, Avonex, Betaseron) disease-modifying medications are NOT immunosuppressants, so general rules about MS and vaccination apply.]

As a Parent With MS, Should I Be Concerned About Vaccinating My Child?

No. There is a genetic component to MS, which increases your child’s risk for developing MS from a 1 in 750 chance in the general population to a 1 in 100 (or 1 percent) 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.

A Word from Verywell

Remember, it is a combination of things that gets us to MS, most likely some genetic vulnerability, combined with some other factor in our environment. Sure, for some of us, vaccines might theoretically have been one of the ingredients in the mix, but we will probably never know—and as of known, experts do not believe vaccines play a role.


Farex MF, Correale J. Yellow fever vaccination and increased relapse rate in travelers with multiple sclerosis. Arch Neurol. 2011 Oct;68(10):1267-71.

Langer-Gould A et al. Vaccine and the risk of multiple sclerosis and other central nervous system demyelinating diseases. JAMA Neurol. 2014 Dec;71(12):1506-13.

Edited by Dr. Colleen Doherty, September 2016.

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