COVID-19 and MS: Fact from Fiction
The full impact that COVID-19 will ultimately have across society has not yet been reached. Many of us are worried about the affect the virus might have on our lives and the lives of those we love. This uncertainty can be particularly felt by people who are also living with a chronic condition like MS.
This page will shed light on some of the misconceptions surrounding COVID-19 and MS and debunk common myths - identified from responses to a recent global survey - to help you separate fact from fiction.
76% of people with MS are more concerned about their health and well-being due to the COVID-19 pandemic
- Sanofi Genzyme internal document – COVID-19 Impact on MS Study, Global Results. Data on file.
- MS Trust – Coronavirus, Covid-19 and multiple sclerosis. Available at: https://www.mstrust.org.uk/a-z/coronavirus-covid-19-and-multiple-sclerosis. Last accessed: July 2020.
- MS Society – COVID-19 coronavirus and MS treatments. Available at: https://www.mssociety.org.uk/about-ms/treatments-and-therapies/disease-modifying-therapies/covid-19-coronavirus-and-ms.Last accessed: July 2020.
- MS Society UK - Immune system and MS. Available at: https://www.mssociety.org.uk/research/explore-our-research/emerging-research-and-treatments/immunomodulation. Last accessed: October 2020
- MS Trust – Preliminary research on Covid-19 in people with MS in Italy offers some reassurance. Available at: https://www.mstrust.org.uk/news/preliminary-research-covid-19-people-ms-italy-offers-some-reassurance. Last accessed: July 2020.
- Multiple Sclerosis Academy – Will our patients be able to respond to a Coronavirus vaccine? Available at: https://multiplesclerosisacademy.org/2020/05/21/webinar-vaccination-will-our-patients-be-able-to-respond-to-a-coronavirus-vaccine/. Last accessed: July 2020.
- MS Trust – Vaccination and immunisation. Available at: https://www.mstrust.org.uk/a-z/vaccination-and-immunisation. Last accessed: July 2020.
- National Multiple Sclerosis Society – Vaccinations. Available at: https://www.nationalmssociety.org/Living-Well-With-MS/Diet-Exercise-Healthy-Behaviors/Vaccinations. Last accessed: July 2020.
A common misconception is that people living with MS have an immune system weakened by their condition, with around half (46%) of respondents to a recent survey believing that having MS puts them at greater risk of contracting COVID-19. Thankfully, this is simply not true. Having MS does not put you at greater risk of contracting the virus.
However, some disease modifying therapies (DMTs) and steroids can suppress your immune system, which may leave you at a greater risk of infection.
If you’re worried that your DMT may put you at greater risk of COVID-19 infection, you should discuss any concerns with your neurologist or MS nurse
Disease modifying therapies (DMTs)
DMTs work by changing how the immune system behaves. They reduce the number of circulating immune cells in the blood or stop them from being able to get into the brain. The potential risks of contracting the virus that causes COVID-19 are different for different DMTs.
If you have questions or concerns about your current MS treatment, reach out to your neurologist. They can talk you through available options based on your unique MS experience, your current treatment and lifestyle, as well as the COVID-19 risk in your local area.
If you are diagnosed with COVID-19 and are taking a DMT, be sure to reach out to both your primary care physician as well as your neurologist, so they can properly evaluate any treatment changes that need to be considered.
Please keep in mind that new data about the use of DMTs and COVID-19 infection is published on a regular basis and our knowledge on this subject is continuously evolving.
Steroids are sometimes used to treat relapses in MS. Like some DMTs, steroids also work to suppress the immune system and are not recommended if you have a viral infection. If you are prescribed a course of steroids for your MS, you may want to discuss the risk of contracting COVID-19 versus the benefit of treatment with your doctor. Whether or not you should take steroids will depend on your individual circumstances and the severity of your relapse.
The impact COVID-19 has on the effectiveness of MS treatments is still unknown. Much of the research around MS and COVID-19 is focused on evaluating the safety of continuing treatment with DMTs during the pandemic, weighing the relative risk of COVID-19 against the benefit that a DMT provides to someone living with MS.
As always, if you have any concerns, contact your neurologist.
A recent survey found that 59% of people with MS were concerned that their MS would make their experience with COVID-19 more serious if they test positive for the disease. However, although COVID-19 can be potentially life-threatening, the majority of people experience a mild infection. Preliminary research from Italy found that of 232 people with MS who had been diagnosed with COVID-19, 96% experienced a mild form. Although these are early results, they suggest that having MS doesn’t increase your likelihood of a more severe COVID-19 infection than the general population. However, it is important to note that some medical conditions resulting from more severe forms of MS may put someone at a greater risk of developing complications from COVID-19. For example, if your MS makes it difficult to clear your lungs there is an increased risk of developing a serious chest infection such as pneumonia.
It is also important to note that the way your body might deal with an infection (such as onset of a fever) may cause your MS symptoms to worsen or trigger relapse, so it’s important to speak to a doctor if you contract COVID-19.
A recent global survey found that 42% of people with MS are concerned whether a COVID-19 vaccine would work for them as a result of their MS or MS treatment.
Although there are many vaccine trials taking place around the world, a vaccine for COVID-19 has not been approved and there are many questions that simply don’t have answers yet.6 Will the vaccine contain a live or inactive version of the virus? How long will immunity last? Will it be a one-off vaccination or will we need to regularly retreat like we do with the flu vaccine?
Vaccines work by preparing your immune system to respond to infection. It’s important to know that MS itself doesn’t impact the effectiveness of vaccinations. However, if you’re receiving treatment with a DMT, your body might be less effective at responding to vaccines in the way they should. This is because of the effect that DMTs can have on the immune system.
Having said that, a study reviewing research into the flu vaccination and MS found that the vaccine was effective and that most DMTs didn’t prevent protection against flu infection.
If you have MS, whether or not a vaccine is recommended is complicated. While it’s advised that people with MS follow the standard vaccination guidelines, there are exceptions. Whether or not a vaccine is recommended depends on the type of vaccine, your risk of exposure, what treatment you are taking and if you are experiencing an MS relapse. You should always consult with your doctor to see which circumstances are relevant for you.
Please be aware the coronavirus outbreak is an ongoing situation and COVID-19 is very much a new disease that we are continuing to learn more about. We have consulted patient organisations and trusted online resources to ensure we are providing you with the most up-to-date, relevant, expert information in relation to COVID-19 and MS. When performing your own online research, it is important to turn to trusted sources. Some examples include:
However, if you have specific concerns in relation to your own health or that of a loved one, we advise you contact your neurologist or MS nurse.