The Arthritis Newsletter

Spring 2018

What You Need to Know about Vaccines

By Kelly English


Vaccinations: there is a lot of talk about them these days, but what do people dealing with arthritis and/or a compromised immune system need to know?


First of all, if you are using biologics (a wide range of products isolated from natural sources used to treat a variety of medical conditions), you need to make sure to discuss vaccinations with your doctor and rheumatologist. Live vaccines can cause serious complications and adverse reactions to those using biologics. Live vaccines include: Oral Polio Vaccine, Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR), Varivax (Zostavax – live vaccine for shingles), and the Typhoid Fever vaccine.


Second, make sure you check your records. Are you up to date on your regular immunizations, such as Tetanus, flu, and Hepatitis? Do you know which vaccines are live and which are not? Are you going to be traveling anywhere that requires specific vaccinations?


For most of us, the annual flu vaccine is a no-brainer. Another one to consider is the pneumococcal vaccine (covered by Pharmacare). Some doctors recommend a second one after five years, while others after three. A second vaccine that doctors recommend is the Prevnar vaccine (not covered by Pharmacare). It protects against 13 forms of the bacteria s.pneumoniae and is also helpful to the immuno-compromised.


Something to consider: In November 2017, the American College of Rheumatology announced that the flu shot would be more effective if Methotrexate (an immune system suppressant) was stopped for two weeks after the vaccine. Please talk to your rheumatologist about this development before the next flu shot season.


The new kid on the block is Shingrix (not covered by Pharmacare). This is a two-dose series of shingles vaccines that are non-live. Trials show a 96% efficacy for preventing shingles, which is an illness caused by the chickenpox virus that can affect any person (usually over 50 but can occur in younger people).  If you are not on biologics, there is a live shingles vaccine called Zostavax II. Ask your doctor and rheumatologist what might be best for you.


Additionally, the Twinrix or Hepatitis A and B shot needs to be discussed with your rheumatologist. It is suggested that everyone should be immunized – not just travellers. In the past, outbreaks have happened in North America, and since Hepatitis A and B can cause liver problems, the vaccine could be important to you.


And, just to be safe, adults should get the tetanus shot every 10 years. This is a simple, one-dose vaccine that protects you from infection by Clostridium tetani – bacteria found in soil, dust and animal feces that, when it enters a deep flesh wound, grows into bacteria that can produce a powerful toxin and impairs the nerves that control your muscles.


Most importantly, stay safe. Keep your immunizations up to date and keep vaccination records together in one place. That way if you need them, they are right at your fingertips!


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