Study: Vaccinations Not a Risk Factor in MS

Aislinn Antrim
Published Online: Monday, August 12th, 2019
A recent study from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has confirmed that vaccinations are not a risk factor for multiple sclerosis (MS), as has been suggested.

The study utilized data from over 12,000 MS patients and found that five years before their diagnosis, MS patients were statistically less likely to receive vaccinations than comparator groups. As a result, there was no positive correlation between vaccinations and the development of MS.1

MS is an often-disabling disease affecting the central nervous system. It disrupts the flow of information between the brain and body, and while the cause is still unknown scientists believe that environmental and genetic factors can contribute to the risk of developing MS.2 It is most likely to occur in people under the age of 40.1

The researchers found that there are lower vaccination rates among MS patients, including vaccinations against pneumococci, meningococci, mumps, measles, rubella, chickenpox, HPV, hepatitis A and B, TBE, and influenza. In all cases, the control group had received significantly more vaccinations than those who later developed MS.

Alexander Hapfilmeier, lead author of the study, said the cause for these differing vaccination rates are unknown.

"It may be that people perceive the disease long before they are diagnosed and therefore avoid putting additional stress on their immune system," Hapfilmeier said in a statement. "Such effects are in fact evident in our data. Or perhaps the vaccines have a protective effect that prevents the immune system from attacking the nervous system."

In order to conclusively rule out the possibility that the results may be an underlying effect of chronic diseases in general, they analyzed data from two other groups: patients with Crohn's disease and patients with psoriasis. These patients' vaccinations had also been recorded five years before their diagnosis.

Patients in each of those groups, however, had received the same amount of vaccinations as the healthy control group.

Bernard Hemmer, director of the Neurology Department of the TUM hospital, said that the signs all point toward the theory that MS is perceived long before neurological symptoms are evident.

"We therefore need to find suitable markers to diagnose the condition earlier," Hemmer said. "We see this as one of our most important tasks."

References
  1. Alexander Hepfelmeier, Christiane Gasperi, Ewan Donnachie, Bernhard Hemmer. A large case-control study on vaccination as risk factor for multiple sclerosis. Neurology, 2019; 10.1212/WNL.0000000000008012.
  2. What Is MS? National Multiple Sclerosis Society. https://www.nationalmssociety.org/What-is-MS. Accessed August 12, 2019.


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