Lupus and vaccines
Staying up to date on vaccines is one of the easiest steps you can take to protect your health — and it’s especially important for people with lupus.
What are vaccines?
Vaccines are medicines that help to protect us from getting sick with serious diseases. They’re usually given as an injection (shot). You may also hear vaccines called immunizations because they give you immunity, or protection, against diseases.
Why are vaccines important for people with lupus?
Lupus makes it harder for your body to fight off diseases, so you’re more likely to get sick, and more likely to develop serious health problems when you do get sick. That’s because:
- Having lupus means that your body’s immune system doesn’t work the right way to protect you from diseases.
- Many people with lupus take steroids or immunosuppressive medicines — these medicines help to treat lupus symptoms and prevent lupus flares, but they can also make it even harder for your immune system to fight diseases. Learn more about medicines to treat lupus.
Vaccines help to protect you from serious diseases and the health problems they can cause.
Do vaccines have side effects?
Like any medicine, vaccines may have side effects. But they’re usually mild — like swelling in the area where you got the shot, a low fever, or muscle aches — and go away within a few days. Getting a vaccine is much safer than getting the disease it prevents.
While it’s uncommon, some people may have a lupus flare after getting a vaccine. But the benefits of getting vaccinated — and protecting yourself from serious diseases — far outweigh the risk that you might have a flare.
What vaccines do I need?
Most people with lupus need the same vaccines as everyone else. Find out what vaccines are recommended for your age group. Then, ask your doctor which vaccines you need.
Protect yourself from flu and pneumonia
It’s especially important for people with lupus to get the flu and pneumonia shots. Lupus makes it more likely that you’ll have serious health problems if you get the flu or pneumonia.
How do vaccines work?
Vaccines teach your body to recognize and fight off germs that cause serious diseases — before they can make you sick.
Here’s what happens when you’re not vaccinated:
When there’s a new germ in your body, your immune system learns to make antibodies to fight it off. But this takes time — and in the meantime, you could get very sick.
And here’s what happens when you’re vaccinated:
Each vaccine gives your immune system a weak or dead version of a germ to practice on. The vaccine doesn’t make you sick — it just teaches your immune system to make the right kind of antibodies to fight off that germ. Then, if you ever catch the live version of that germ, your immune system is ready to fight it off.
COVID-19 vaccinations use a new method to help vaccinate people. It is called a messenger RNA or mRNA vaccine. The mRNA vaccines send a portion of a virus’ genetic code to allow the body to learn how to fight it. This will allow the body to create a defense system if it comes in contact with the virus that causes COVID-19.
The mRNA vaccines do not contain the COVID-19 virus and do not change a person’s genes or DNA.
How do we know vaccines are safe?
Vaccines go through lots of careful testing to make sure they’re safe and effective.
Every vaccine goes through 3 phases of clinical trials. Researchers give the vaccine to thousands of people to make sure that it protects them from the disease and find out if it causes any side effects.
Government agencies license vaccines to confirm that they’re safe before recommending that people get them — and once a vaccine is approved, they continue to track reported side effects over time and watch for any safety issues.
Manufacturers test each batch of vaccines to make sure it’s safe before doctors give it to their patients.
The important thing to remember is that the benefits of vaccines far outweigh the small risk of side effects — especially for people with lupus.
Our health educators are available to answer your questions and give you the help you need.