One thing I forgot to mention in my book “Game Over, MS” is whether or not to get a flu shot every year if you have MS. After all, when you’re about to get a flu shot, they give you a one-page questionnaire first, and it asks whether you have an immune condition – implying that this may be a negating factor.
Ever since I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2000, I’ve seen lots of different iterations and rules for this. Tell the truth and check Yes, or lie and check No?
I’m going to break a writing rule and tell you the answer to the question early on here: Yes. Let’s talk about why and how.
Roadblocks to a Flu Shot if You Have MS
The first time I went to get my flu shot post-diagnosis, I was honest on that questionnaire. Where it asks whether or not you have an autoimmune condition, I checked the Yes box.
The nurse flatly said I thus was not eligible for the flu shot since I have MS. I told her that my neurologist told me I needed to always get a flu shot, because otherwise I could get the flu and it could cause an MS exacerbation. She didn’t care about my drivel – she said I needed a letter from him stating that in order for me to get the shot.
Get a Doctor’s Note and Keep It Handy
So I asked Dr. Feinberg to write an “evergreen” (dateless) letter saying I always need to get a flu shot. He gladly did so, and he told me to make lots of copies so I could give it to the medical professionals whenever necessary.
That worked for about three years. The fourth year, they were strict again – they said the policy of their company was to never give a flu shot to someone with a “compromised” immune system. It didn’t matter that I had a signed letter from my neurologist on his letterhead.
Sheesh! When I tried again elsewhere, the nurse was a little more compassionate – and intelligent – and she told me that I had to frankly just check “No” for that question. (Wow.)
So yes, I was told to lie on the paperwork in order to get the flu shot. In the interest of my own health, I was supposed to lie. I appreciated her candor and for protecting my health despite the heartless “policy.”
How to Get a Flu Shot Despite Policy
What I quickly learned at that point was, from then on – before answering any question on the questionnaire about immune conditions or chronic conditions or anything that MS could fall under – was to answer all the other questions and then ask the nurse how I should answer that question under the circumstances. One year, the nurse just left it unanswered and I think she wrote a note on the paper.
I’ve kept Dr. Feinberg’s letter on hand to show them each time, and that has indeed been handy to solidify my claim and give me credibility, but I now answer the applicable questions however they tell me to answer them. Sometimes they tell me to check No, sometimes they say to check Yes and that it’s still okay. It’s always different! Either
way, I never feel like I’m lying anymore because they know the full situation, and I’m following their directions.
But it felt like playing chess to get to that point, because my druthers are always to tell the truth, especially when it comes to health care stuff!
Will a Flu Shot Give Me an MS Exacerbation?
No, because the flu shot comprises the dead influenza virus, not live. Your body will create antibodies against the virus when you get the shot, and that’s what you want.
You will therefore not get sick (unless you’ve already been exposed to the flu before getting the shot), and your T-cells will not be activated and attack that protective fatty myelin layer that guards your brain and spinal cord. These T-cell attacks are believed to cause the scars, or sclerosis.
How to Keep Multiple Sclerosis Under Control
In “Game Over, MS,” I explain everything I’ve learned since being diagnosed with MS in 2000 – and also what I started to learn during the lead-up to my diagnosis. I’ve encapsulated a lot of information into an easy method explained with the acronym SYSTEMS, and my promise to you is that following these simple, easy SYSTEMS every day will enable you to never tell anyone about your MS outside of your doctors, if you prefer to keep it a secret!
No one will be able to tell that you have MS. Well, unless you want to brag.