COVID Vaccines for People with Myasthenia Gravis
As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues, you may wonder how the vaccine affects people living with long-term illnesses like myasthenia gravis (MG). Are the vaccines safe, and when will you be able to get one?
Researchers know that having MG could raise your risk of serious illness from the virus that causes COVID-19. The virus tends to affect people with MG who:1
- Have weakness in their swallowing and breathing muscles
- Take drugs to calm an overactive immune system (immunosuppressants)
- Have other health conditions that put them at high risk for COVID-19
Researchers have also found that infections, in general, can make MG symptoms worse. In fact, infections are the top trigger of worsening symptoms in people with MG, making up 40-70 percent of cases.2
Understanding these risk factors will help you decide whether to get vaccinated for COVID-19.
When will I be able to get it?
More people are getting the COVID-19 vaccine every day, but there is still a restricted supply of shots in the United States. This means people who have a higher chance of serious illness from the virus can get the vaccine first.
Each state decides who will be offered the initial vaccine doses, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issues guidelines. The CDC suggests these people get vaccines during phases 1a and 1b:3
- Healthcare workers
- People who live in long-term care facilities
- Frontline essential workers
- People 75 years and older
For phase 1c, the CDC recommends vaccine shots for:4
- People 65 and older
- People 16 to 64 years old with health issues that put them at high risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19
- Other essential workers like those who work in transportation, food service, public safety, and public health
People with MG may be offered a vaccine during these phases. Contact your local health department for information about your state’s vaccination plan and to make an appointment.
Is it safe for people with MG?
As of February 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved 2 COVID-19 vaccines for use in the United States. Both are mRNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. This new type of vaccine teaches our cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response, protecting us from a COVID-19 infection.5
Vaccines go through research studies called clinical trials. The FDA then reviews the data from clinical trials to figure out if a vaccine is safe and works well. Scientists have tested the COVID-19 vaccines on people with long-term illnesses and will continue to monitor how well they work in the real world.6,7
People with MG can get an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. However, you should know that as of February 2021, there is no safety data on mRNA vaccines for those with autoimmune conditions. Researchers did allow people with autoimmune conditions to enroll in vaccine clinical trials, but specific safety data on this group is not yet available.8
There is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines interact with other medicines like immunosuppressants or other drugs. But, just to be safe, tell your vaccine provider about any medicines you take.9
What to expect after getting the vaccine
As of February 2021, COVID-19 vaccines require 2 shots (usually 21 to 28 days apart) to work properly. After you get the full dose, your body will build protection against the coronavirus in a week or 2. Vaccine side effects include:8,10
- Arm pain and swelling
Health experts are still studying how COVID-19 vaccines work in the real world outside of research studies.
If you have MG, you should be aware of the possibility of a lower immune response to the vaccine. This means you should still protect yourself from the COVID-19 virus. Wear a mask over your nose and mouth, stay 6 feet apart from people who do not live with, and wash your hands often with soap and water.8,10
Have you found it difficult to discuss your diagnosis or symptoms with loved ones?