August 19, 2009

The Value of Vaccines

Lately we’ve been hearing a lot of questions from parents about the safety of vaccinations for their children with lupus. That started us thinking about the safety of vaccinations for adults with the disease, too. So we went where everyone goes for questions like these: to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The “why” of getting vaccinated is easy: Immunization reduces the risk of infection and the chance of catching certain diseases -- and that’s of the utmost importance for anyone with lupus, of any age, since many of you take medications that suppress your natural immune system function, and because lupus makes you more susceptible to any bug that’s going around.

The question of which vaccines are safe for people with lupus is a little more complicated. Vaccines are produced using an infectious or viral agent. Usually vaccines use a “killed” form, but some use a “live” or an “attenuated” (weakened) form. So, always talk with your doctors before receiving any vaccine. In January 2009, the CDC put out revised immunization guidelines that include several clarifications and additions (PDF). Although specifics are not given for children or adults with lupus, the guidelines address vaccinations for anyone with a compromised immune system -- people with lupus included.

Another common question is which vaccines are considered safe for family members of people with lupus. Probably the simplest rule is to avoid close contact with anyone who receives a vaccine that uses a live or attenuated agent.

This chart is extremely abbreviated -- please go to the CDC website for complete recommendations, indications, and supplemental notes. And remember: Your rheumatologist or doctor experienced in lupus has the last word!

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