Seattle, Washington – The COVID-19 pandemic has raised concerns for individuals with chronic health conditions such as multiple sclerosis (MS). People with MS may have questions about their risk of COVID-19, the impact of their MS treatment, and the safety of COVID-19 vaccines.
MS is a chronic condition in which the immune system attacks the protective myelin layer that covers the nerves. According to experts, approximately 2.8 million people worldwide were living with MS in 2020. The symptoms of MS can affect sensation, movement, vision, and other bodily processes. Some people may experience mild symptoms, while others may have a progressively worsening disease leading to significant disability.
For individuals with MS, there may be concerns about the risk of developing COVID-19 or experiencing severe outcomes. Research has shown that people with MS do not seem to have a higher risk of contracting COVID-19, but certain factors such as age and medical treatments may increase the risk of a more serious outcome if they do contract the virus.
In terms of MS medications, there are concerns that certain types of disease-modifying therapy (DMT) may increase the risk of severe COVID-19. It has been found that drugs that inhibit CD20, a protein found on certain types of immune cells, could potentially increase a person’s risk of severe COVID-19.
Despite these concerns, the National MS Society recommends that individuals with MS continue to take their DMTs as prescribed by their doctor and not make any changes to their medication regimen without consulting their healthcare provider. The potential benefits of adjusting DMT treatment in response to COVID-19 must be carefully weighed against the impact it could have on a person’s MS.
The National MS Society also recommends that individuals with MS receive the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible, citing that the risk of COVID-19 outweighs the potential risks associated with the vaccines. However, some types of DMTs may reduce the effectiveness of the vaccine, and individuals are advised to discuss their vaccination schedule with their doctor.
In addition to vaccination, individuals with MS can take other measures to reduce their risk of contracting COVID-19, such as encouraging their caregivers and household members to get vaccinated, practicing good hand hygiene, wearing masks in public, and maintaining physical distancing.
Research has shown that individuals with MS are not more likely to contract COVID-19, but they may be more susceptible to long COVID symptoms and experience a slower recovery. The UK Multiple Sclerosis Society recommends that individuals keep their healthcare team informed of any new or changed symptoms to facilitate the development of appropriate management plans.