The latest on COVID-19 Vaccines and the flu shot for the immune compromised

I recently participated in a webinar held by the Canadian Spondylitis Association. They are a really useful and informative organization if you’re newly diagnosed or want to stay informed about your disease. There’s even a link so that you can connect with a group near you. I am on their mailing list so that I don’t miss out on the latest webinars. They offer great advice and give you the opportunity to ask questions to some of the top doctors in the world.

Dr. Nigil Haroon began the webinar by speaking about Covid-19, what it is and how it infects our cells. What I was interested in hearing about was how the vaccine affects those of us with autoimmune disorders and those that are on immunosuppressants. I also wanted to know where those of us who are immune compromised fall in terms of the long lineup for the Covid-19 vaccine. In my province of Ontario, there are 3 stages. One for long-term care residents, one for those who are most vulnerable and one for the general population.

The first thing I learned about getting the flu shot or vaccine is that it’s important that your disease is controlled. If you are feeling off or in the middle of a flare up, it’s probably best to avoid getting it. I have comorbidities (Ankylosing Spondylitis and Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis) and Dr. Haroon stated that both diseases should be well controlled prior to any shot. I also learned that getting the the vaccine is much like getting the flu shot if you are taking Methotrexate like I am. It is recommended that you stop the Methotrexate two weeks prior to receiving the vaccine and two weeks after receiving it. I got my flu shot this year and I followed this to a tee and had zero issues. Apparently, stopping the Methotrexate in this way can help make the flu shot and vaccine more effective. If you are on Remicade or another biologic, as of now, it is recommended that you get the vaccine in the middle of your cycle. I get an infusion of Remicade every 6 weeks so I would get my vaccine on week 3. So far the experts aren’t suggesting that you stop the biologic, but things may change as more information comes out. As more essential health care workers receive their vaccines, some will be in the same boat as we are, and therefore more data will come out. Immune compromised people are purposely kept out of vaccine trials due to how fragile we are so there really isn’t much data about how the vaccine reacts with immune compromised people. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines aren’t live ones so we don’t have to be worried about that. They are mRNA vaccines. To trigger an immune response, many vaccines put a weakened or inactivated germ into our bodies. Not mRNA vaccines. Instead, they teach our cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. That immune response, which produces antibodies, is what protects us from getting infected if the real virus enters our bodies. I was worried about it being a live vaccine and it was confirmed that they are not.

Lastly, I found out that even though many of us who have spondyloarthritis have compromised immune systems, in my province of Ontario at least, we do not fall under any special category for receiving the vaccine. We will all be eligible in stage 3 with the general public. I was disappointed by this because I’ve been living a very sheltered life since March 2020 because I’ve been deemed very high risk by my rheumatologist. I’ve had several infections which I will talk about in another post and am therefore considered vulnerable to catching this one. Dr. Haroon eluded to the fact that this is the case because there is no proof that we actually are more susceptible to catching Covid-19 just because we are immune compromised. I guess that’s a good thing because the last thing I would want to hear is that there is a high percentage of people on Remicade who are testing positive. The problem is, I’m not comforted by that and as a mom, I worry about what could happen if I did contract the virus. The sooner I can roll up my sleeve, the better.

If you want to watch the webinar for yourself, here is the link: https://www.spondylitis.ca/spa-covid-19-vaccine/

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