Living well with lupus

Are flu and pneumonia vaccines safe if I have lupus?

Dr. Costenbader is an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and a rheumatologist who co-directs the Lupus Center at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts.

See all of Karen H. Costenbader, MD, MPH's answers.

Seasonal Flu Vaccine

Is the flu vaccine safe?

Overall, the flu shot is considered to be safe and effective for people with lupus. People with lupus generally do not have any side effects from the flu shot. When they do, their symptoms are usually mild, such as a local reaction with swelling of the arm at the site of the injection, a bit of low-grade fever and muscle aches. In general, the benefits of receiving the flu shot greatly outweigh the potential risks of experiencing a flare. However, if you are pregnant or have had allergic reactions to these vaccines in the past, talk to your doctor before receiving one.

You and your loved ones should get the flu shot, not the nasal spray.

For most people with lupus, doctors recommend the flu shot every year. However, make sure that you request a flu shot, and not the The FluMist® nasal (nose) spray. Unlike the shot, the FluMist nasal spray contains a live form of the flu virus, which is not recommended for people with lupus, anyone living with a person with lupus or any one taking immunosuppressive medications.

How does the flu shot work?

The flu shot is a highly effective vaccine made from an inactivated (killed) virus. It is given once a year to people who are at risk for complications of influenza infection. About two weeks after vaccination, the body develops antibodies that provide protection against the influenza virus infection. If you’re interested in learning more about the flu, and would like the most up to date information about the flu vaccine, visit the U.S. Department of Health & Human Service’s website, www.flu.gov.

Pneumonia Vaccine

The pneumonia vaccine is also recommended for people with lupus, and a second dose should be given five years after the first dose. This vaccine is given as a shot and can help to prevent most (but not all) kinds of pneumonia.

A new form of penumonia vaccine called the prevnar13 was introduced in 2010 and covers more types of pneumonia. It is recommended that lupus patients also receive this vaccine, but at least one year apart from the pneumonia vaccine. The pneumonia vaccines, like the flu vaccine, can cause some mild symptoms of local swelling and inflammation in the arm, low grade fever and body aches.

Medically reviewed on December 05, 2013