AAN guideline encourages vaccinations for MS patients



Patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) should follow local vaccine standards and receive the yearly influenza vaccine, unless there are specific contraindications, such as active treatment with immunosuppressive or immunomodulating agents, according to an American Academy of Neurology practice guideline.

Closeup of vaccines and a needle itsmejust/Thinkstock

A summary of the guideline on vaccine-preventable infections and immunization in MS was published online Aug. 28 in Neurology. The new effort updates a 2002 guideline on this topic and incorporates new evidence, vaccines, and disease-modifying therapies (DMTs). The guideline was endorsed by the Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers and by the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America.

To create the guideline, lead author Mauricio F. Farez, MD, of the Raúl Carrea Institute for Neurological Research (FLENI) in Buenos Aires and colleagues on the 17-member guideline panel performed a systematic review of the evidence and reached consensus on recommendations using a modified Delphi voting process. The review included randomized, controlled trials; cohort studies; and case-control studies published between 1990 and March 2018.

“Immunosuppressive or immunomodulating agents used to treat MS may suppress or modulate normal immune function. These drugs may increase susceptibility to infections and may reduce vaccine effectiveness because of a decreased ability to mount an immune response,” the authors said.

Based on its review of the evidence, principles of care, and inferences, the authors made the following eight recommendations:

  • Clinicians should discuss with patients the evidence regarding immunization in MS (Level B). In addition, clinicians should examine patients’ opinions, preferences, and questions regarding immunizations (Level B).
  • Clinicians should recommend that patients with MS follow all local vaccine standards in the absence of specific contraindications (Level B).
  • Clinicians should consider local risks of vaccine-preventable diseases when counseling patients (Level B).
  • Clinicians should recommend that patients with MS receive the influenza vaccination if there is no specific contraindication, such as a previous severe reaction (Level B).
  • When treatment with an immunosuppressive or immunomodulating agent is considered, clinicians should counsel patients about infection risks associated with the specific medication and the treatment-specific vaccination guidance in the medication’s prescribing instructions (Level B). In addition, physicians should assess patients’ vaccination status before prescribing immunosuppressive or immunomodulating therapy and vaccinate patients according to local regulatory standards and treatment-specific infectious risks at least 4-6 weeks before initiating therapy, as advised by the prescribing information (Level B). Furthermore, clinicians may discuss the advantages of vaccination soon after MS diagnosis, regardless of initial therapeutic plans, to prevent delays should immunosuppressive or immunomodulating therapies be initiated in the future (Level C, based on variation in patient preferences).
  • Clinicians must screen for certain infections (such as hepatitis, tuberculosis, and varicella zoster virus) according to a medication’s prescribing information before starting immunosuppressive or immunomodulating treatment (Level A) and should treat patients who have latent infections before MS treatment according to the medication prescribing information (Level B, based on feasibility and cost relative to benefit). Further, in high-risk populations or in countries with a high burden of infectious disease, clinicians must screen for latent infections before starting immunosuppressive or immunomodulating medications, even when such screening is not specifically mentioned in the prescribing information (Level A). Clinicians should consult infectious disease or other specialists about treating patients with latent infection before starting immunosuppressive or immunomodulating medications (Level B).
  • Clinicians should recommend against live-attenuated vaccines in people with MS who receive immunosuppressive or immunomodulating therapies or have recently discontinued these therapies (Level B, based on importance of outcomes). When the risk of infection is high, clinicians may recommend live-attenuated vaccines if killed vaccines are unavailable (Level C, based on variation in patient preferences, benefit relative to harm, and importance of outcomes).
  • If a patient with MS is experiencing a relapse, clinicians should delay vaccination until the relapse has clinically resolved or is no longer active, often many weeks after relapse onset (Level B).


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