Take the Right Shots for Lupus!
Take the Right Shots for Lupus!

August 15, 2019

While August is when we savor the last weeks of summer, it is also the time to look ahead and prepare for fall.  In recognition of National Immunization Month, our Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Teodora Staeva provides background on vaccines and relays government recommendations for which are safe for people with lupus.

“Vaccines help to develop immunity, in other words protect against disease, by imitating an infection,” notes Dr. Staeva.  “Most vaccines contain small amounts of the germs (or parts of them) that cause disease but are either killed or weakened. The vaccine prompts the immune system to produce T cells and antibodies against these germs, and thus allows the body to learn how to fight these microbes in the future. However, several rounds of vaccination are often required to achieve optimal protection.”

Currently there are four main types of vaccines.

  • Live-attenuated vaccines use the weakened (attenuated) form of the virus so that it does not cause serious illness in individuals with healthy immune systems.  Vaccines with live viruses are generally NOT recommended for people with lupus.
  • Inactivated vaccines are made by killing the germ while making the vaccine. These are considered safe and effective for people with lupus.
  • Subunit or purified antigen vaccines use only specific pieces of the germ. Thus, they give a very robust immune response targeted to key portions of the microbe. Generally, these vaccines can be used widely, including on people with weakened immune systems.
  • Toxoid vaccines use a toxin (harmful product) made by the germ that causes a disease. They create immunity to the parts of the germ that cause a disease instead of the germ itself. That means the immune response is targeted to the toxin instead of the whole germ.

“People with lupus are at greater risk for infections due to immunosuppression, so vaccines are very important,” noted Dr. Staeva.  “But speak to your doctor before getting any vaccine to determine which are right for you and when.”
Recommendations from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), Office of Women’s Health:

People with lupus typically can get the following vaccines that do not contain live viruses:

  • The flu shot (not nasal spray which contains a live form of the flu virus)
  • Pneumonia vaccine
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine
  • Tetanus, diphtheria, and acellular pertussis (Td/Tdap) vaccine

Vaccines with live viruses that may not be safe for people with lupus, include:

  • Nasal spray vaccine for the flu
  • Varicella (chickenpox) vaccine
  • Herpes Zoster (Shingles) vaccine
  • Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) vaccine
  • Live typhoid vaccine (oral)


U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Office of Women’s Health

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