MS and the COVID-19 vaccines
Can I get a COVID-19 booster vaccine? Are the coronavirus vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech, Oxford-AstraZeneca or Moderna "live" vaccines?
We’ve spoken to leading healthcare professionals to help answer your questions about COVID-19 vaccines and MS.
Your own MS team can give you more advice based on your circumstances, treatments, and whether getting a COVID-19 vaccine is right for you.
We updated this page on Friday 20 May 2022 with the latest on an autumn 2022 booster
- When can I get a COVID-19 vaccine?
- Can I get a COVID-19 booster jab?
- Can I get an extra COVID booster jab – the “spring booster”?
- Can children and teenagers get the COVID-19 vaccine?
- Can I have a COVID-19 vaccine if I'm having an MS relapse or take steroids?
- Will a COVID-19 vaccine interfere with my other medications?
- Do I need to prepare anything before my COVID-19 vaccination?
- Does the COVID-19 vaccine work against the Omicron variant?
- What about COVID-19 vaccine side effects?
- Are the coronavirus vaccines ‘live’ vaccines?
- Which COVID-19 vaccine is best for someone with MS?
- Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine if I’m pregnant?
- How do the COVID-19 vaccines work?
- Do any of the COVID-19 vaccines contain egg or animal products?
- Have the COVID-19 vaccines been tested in people with MS?
- How do we know that the COVID-19 vaccine will be safe and effective for people with MS?
COVID-19 vaccines are available now across the UK people with MS, their family, friends and carers.
Everyone with MS is eligible for two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, and a booster jab after that. Three doses in total.
DMTs and COVID-19 vaccines
Some disease modifying therapies (DMTs) might affect the timing of COVID jabs. Read more about DMTs and COVID-19 vaccines
Vaccination centres and home vaccination
The NHS has asked all vaccination sites to be accessible with reasonable adjustments such as priority lanes for anyone who finds it hard to queue.
If your MS means you can’t get to a centre for your jabs, your GP or local NHS should arrange it at home.
Avoid the scammers
If the NHS gets in touch to arrange your vaccine it could be by phone, letter or both. A genuine contact from the NHS won’t ask for payment or for you to send personal documents to prove your identity.
The government vaccine advisers have recommended another COVID-19 vaccine booster for some people in autumn 2022. This advice might change before the autumn, but at the moment they say it should be for:
- residents in a care home for older adults and staff
- frontline health and social care workers
- all those 65 years of age and over
- adults aged 16 to 64 years who are in a clinical risk group
We don't know yet who'd be in the "clinical risk group". And the details of how it would work for each nation will be announced closer to the time. We'll update when we know more.
Find out about booking a COVID-19 vaccine in England
Find out about booking a COVID-19 vaccine in Scotland
Find out about booking a COVID-19 vaccine in Wales
Find out about booking a COVID-19 vaccine in Northern Ireland
It’s not too late to get your COVID-19 vaccine. Most people had two “primary doses” (the first two doses) in summer 2021. But if you haven’t had these, you can still get them wherever you are in the UK. It’s now on offer to anyone over the age of five.
You might be advised to have a "third primary dose" if you took the following DMTs around the time of your COVID-19 vaccine:
That’s because these DMTs might have stopped your immune system from responding strongly enough to the first two vaccine doses.
You can have your third primary dose as soon as 28 days after your second dose.
If you haven’t yet heard about getting a third primary dose and you take one of those DMTs, contact your neurologist to discuss it.
Am I immunosuppressed?
The government vaccine advisers (the JCVI) recommend the third primary dose for people who are ‘immunosuppressed’ or with a “weakened immune system”. Having MS itself doesn’t mean you’ll have a weakened immune system. But the DMTs above might have that effect, for varying lengths of time.
Anyone over 16 who’s already had their primary jabs can get a booster jab. Some children over 12 can also get a booster.
The booster can happen as soon as 3 months after your last COVID vaccine jab.
If you had a “third primary dose”, you are eligible for this booster. It would be your fourth COVID jab (3 primary doses plus 1 booster). And if you've already had this first booster, you can also get an extra one – what the government is calling a “spring booster”.
Boosters can help keep up protection against the virus. Most people had a booster in late 2021 or early 2022.
You can get an extra booster in spring 2022 if:
- you're over 75
- or you live in a residential care home
- or you’re eligible for the "third primary dose"
If you’ve had three primary doses and the first booster, this would be your fifth COVID jab (3 primary doses, plus 2 boosters).
Even if you missed an earlier dose, you can still get a booster now. You can have this booster as soon as 3 months after your last COVID vaccine dose.
The Comirnaty (Pfizer) or Spikevax (Moderna) vaccines will be used for the spring booster programme.
When you can expect to be contacted about this booster depends on where you live:
- In Wales – local health boards started contacting people who qualify for the extra booster in mid March 2022
- In Scotland – the NHS began contacting people who qualify for the extra booster in mid March 2022
- In England – everyone eligible should be contacted by the NHS. This started on 21 March. You can book through the National Booking Service if it's been 6 months since your last COVID jab or you've been invited by the NHS
- In Northern Ireland – we expect these extra boosters to be given during April and May 2022
Across the UK, children aged 5 to 11 will be offered the COVID-19 vaccine, starting in spring 2022.
Since December 2021, the vaccine has been available for children aged 5 to 11 who are in a “clinical risk group” or who live with someone who’s immunosuppressed. This could include some children with MS.
If you haven't been contacted about that and think it applies to your situation, contact your GP or neurologist to discuss it.
Children and teenagers aged 12 to 17 can get the vaccine in all UK nations.
Booster jabs for teenagers and 12-year-olds
The JCVI also recommends booster jabs for children who are:
- 16 and 17
- 12 to 15 and are in a clinical risk group or who live with someone who’s immunosuppressed
- 12 to 15 and are severely immunocompromised and who have had a "third primary dose"
Anyone 12 or older who was eligible for the third primary dose will be offered an extra booster jab in spring 2022.
Can children with MS get the COVID-19 vaccine?
Children with MS can now get the COVID-19 vaccine along with everyone else.
Since late December 2021, some 5 to 11-year-olds with MS have been able to get the vaccine. The NHS should get in touch with anyone eligible.
We agree with an MS International Federation recommendation that young people with MS should be offered the vaccine.
Our medical advisers recommend not having the vaccination while you're having a relapse.
They also advise waiting two weeks after completing a course of steroids to treat a relapse, before being vaccinated.
Our medical advisers say you should wait two weeks after completing a course of steroids to treat a relapse, before being vaccinated.
Our medical advisers don’t think the COVID-19 vaccine will stop DMTs from working. They say this because of what we know about the way these vaccines work, and evidence from studies of other vaccines and MS. At the moment, we’re not sure if a COVID-19 vaccine will interfere with any other medications you might be taking.
No one should stop their MS therapy unless specifically requested to do so by their MS team.
Your MS team can answer specific questions about your own circumstances.
You should bring a face covering, unless you don’t wear one because of your MS or another condition. And if your appointment is at a vaccination centre you’ll need your booking reference numbers.
You can have someone with you as a carer if you usually would.
If you’ve got a letter about needing a “third primary dose” it might be helpful to take that with you. Some people who’ve had a third primary dose have been told at the vaccination site that they can’t get the booster. This is because the computer system records the third primary dose as a “booster”. To avoid this problem, show them the letter about your third primary dose. You are eligible for 2 booster jabs as well as your 3 primary doses (5 doses in total).
When you go for your vaccination, you’ll be asked to read the patient safety leaflet. This is normal for any kind of vaccination.
With some DMTs – though not all – your MS team might have specific advice about the timing of the vaccine. That’s to make the vaccine as effective as possible.
Current vaccines can give protection against Omicron, as well as the protection they offer already against other variants.
At the announcement about the new Omicron variant, government medical advisers encouraged everyone to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
And because of the Omicron variant of the virus, the UK government advisers sped up the booster programme. They also confirmed that if you have a “third primary dose” of the vaccine you will be offered booster jabs.
Some people report no side effects at all from COVID-19 vaccines.
When people do notice something, the most common reactions are headaches, arm pain, body aches, chills or fever lasting a few hours to a few days. Over-the-counter painkillers, like paracetamol, can help with this.
Some of the possible side effects are similar to MS symptoms, including tiredness and muscle pain. A fever can make your MS symptoms worse temporarily, but they should return to how they were, after the fever is gone. But if you’re worried about any symptoms, you should contact your doctor or MS team as you usually would.
We know about these possible side effects because thousands of people taking the vaccines were monitored during the clinical trials. And when people report new side effects to a doctor or nurse (or use the Yellow Card scheme) this is recorded and the information about the vaccine is updated. That way, there’s ongoing monitoring for side effects in the months and years after the vaccine is given.
We also have information from the MS Register, where people with MS have answered questions about vaccine side effects they might have noticed.
Because none of the licensed vaccines are "live vaccines" it’s impossible to catch the coronavirus from the vaccine.
Oxford-AstraZeneca for the under 40s
On 7 April 2021, the government vaccine advisers (the JCVI) announced new advice for people aged 18-30 who don’t have an underlying condition (such as MS). On 7 May this was extended to people up to the age of 39. This could include family, partners or carers of people with MS.
If these people are going for their first jab, they should be offered an alternative to the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, when possible.
This is because of extremely rare side effects of blood clots.
If you’re due for your second Oxford-AstraZeneca jab, the JCVI says you should still have it, even if you’re under 40 and have no underlying conditions. There have been very few cases of blood clots reported after the second jab.
The chances of having a blood clot after the AstraZeneca vaccine are very small, and a link between the vaccine and the blood clots hasn’t been proven. But they’ve been reported in about 10 people in every 1 million who’ve had this vaccine.
The JCVI has not given the new advice for people under 40 because they are likely to develop blood clots. They are taking a very cautious approach and weighing up the small risk of blood clots against the benefits of taking the vaccine.
For people with underlying conditions, they say the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risk.
People under 40 without underlying conditions are less at risk from COVID-19 complications. So the JCVI has decided that at the moment they should be offered an alternative vaccine where possible.
The approved Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccines are not "live" vaccines. Neither is the third vaccine that’s approved, made by Moderna.
A "live" vaccine contains a weak version of the virus or bacteria they prevent. Many neurologists would suggest you avoid live vaccines if you’ve recently taken certain DMTs or high-dose steroids. This is because although the virus or bacteria that the vaccine contains is weakened, there is still a small chance that it can cause disease in people with immune systems that have been weakened by DMTs.
The approved vaccines for COVID-19 work in a different way.
It’s too soon to compare the available COVID-19 vaccines and say if one might be better than another for people with MS.
But the research information we have already confirms that the best way to stay out of hospital with COVID-19 is to get the vaccines now on offer.
If you’re pregnant, the advice is you should be offered the Comirnaty ( Pfizer-BioNTech) or Spikevax (Moderna) vaccines if these are available.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has said that, when it comes to being pregnant, there are no specific safety worries about any of the types of coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines. Their advice is that pregnant women should be offered the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time as the rest of the population. When they’re offered it will depend on how old they are and what, if any, clinical risk group they are in.
In the USA, 90,000 pregnant women have had these two vaccines without any problems. There’s no evidence that other vaccines are unsafe for pregnant women, although more research is needed.
Women should talk to their doctor or nurse about the risks and benefits of vaccination. They’ll know the latest evidence on safety, which vaccines to have, and whether you’re in any special clinical risk group.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is what’s known as a "messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine". The Moderna vaccine also works in this way. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has a different way of working - it’s known as a "viral vector vaccine".
Messenger RNA - using the genetic code
The messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines don’t contain any pieces of the actual coronavirus. Instead, they contain part of the genetic code of the virus, carried by the mRNA. These vaccines work by injecting this part of the coronavirus's genetic code, which trains the body’s immune system to attack coronavirus if it’s exposed to it.
The Oxford vaccine – a "viral vector vaccine"
The other vaccine has been developed by the University of Oxford and drug company AstraZeneca. It’s known as a "viral vector vaccine". It uses a weak version of the virus that causes the common cold in chimpanzees. This helps it get into the body like an actual virus would. But in the vaccine, this virus has had its genetic code changed so that it can’t actually cause disease in humans.
The change also means it’s got the genetic code for one particular part of the coronavirus - the "spike protein’" It’s just that, a spike on the outside of the virus that it uses to get inside our cells.
The vaccine makes the same spike so our immune system can recognise it if the actual coronavirus gets in - and then fight it off.
None of the 3 available COVID-19 vaccines contain egg or animal products.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was made using human kidney cells.
We don’t know yet how many people with MS might have taken the COVID-19 vaccines during the clinical trials. That detail about who was on the trials hasn’t been published yet.
But we do know they looked at whether the vaccines worked on people with certain medical conditions and in older people. They did this because the immune responses for these people can work less effectively and therefore give them less protection through vaccines.
The 3 vaccines which have shared their initial results show the vaccine is between 70-95% effective in people involved in the trial as a whole.
Pfizer-BioNTech plan to check how effective the vaccine is for people with weakened ('compromised') immune systems - for example if you use certain DMTs. They’ll do this through a clinical trial and through their ongoing monitoring of people in the months and years after taking the vaccine.
One small study has looked at how effective the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine might be for people taking cladribine, fingolimod or ocrelizumab. Read about this Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine research
All new medicines have to go through rigorous safety tests in clinical trials – including vaccines. This includes 3 stages of clinical trials where people who take the vaccine are very closely monitored. Researchers constantly check the safety and side effects through these trials.
Although the trials for the coronavirus vaccines have been accelerated, safety processes have still been carried out as normal.
The process can take up to a few months, but the process has so far been quicker for COVID-19 because the experts are prioritising and checking data as it’s produced - rather than waiting until after everything is completed as they usually would. So they can speed up the process while keeping it thorough.
Any COVID-19 vaccine is only approved once it meets these robust standards of effectiveness, safety and quality.
The Association of British Neurologists (ABN) say they don’t expect that COVID-19 vaccines will worsen someone’s MS – for example, by causing a relapse. And they have no reason to believe these will be dangerous in people with MS, including people taking immunosuppressive drugs.
We don't know for sure that the vaccines will work for everyone with MS. It’s possible that people on some MS treatments might have a reduced response to the vaccines.
This could happen because vaccines work by triggering an immune response and DMTs work by dampening down the immune system. This effect from the DMT might change over time. So you may have a reduced response for some time after an infusion, for example, but this might not be permanent.
Our medical advisers say that even a reduced response is likely to be better than none, so you should still get vaccinated if you’re on a DMT that might affect the vaccine like this.
Your own MS team can give you more advice, based on your circumstances, any treatments you take, and on whether getting a COVID-19 vaccine is right for you.
The UK government has said that adults who have a weakened immune system ("immunocompromised") should get a COVID-19 vaccine as a matter of priority. They say this includes people having stem cell transplants, and adults receiving alemtuzumab, ofatumumab or rituximab.
This doesn’t guarantee the vaccine will be completely effective if you take these treatments, but you will get priority if you and your MS team agree it’s right for you.
One small study has looked at how effective the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine might be for people taking cladribine, fingolimod or ocrelizumab. Read about this Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine research
Now a vaccine has been approved, there will be lots more information coming out about possible side effects and anyone who should avoid or delay taking that particular vaccine. We’ll keep up to date with any changes.
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