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Rheumatoid arthritis: Protect your health with vaccines

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Apr 9, 2021.

Rheumatoid arthritis and the medications used to treat it can increase your risk of developing infections. Vaccinations can help prevent some of these infections.

An autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks its own tissue. While rheumatoid arthritis primarily affects tissue lining your joints, it can also affect your lungs, heart, kidneys and eyes.

Rheumatoid arthritis medications work by suppressing your immune system. An unwanted side effect of this suppression, though, is an increased risk of infection — particularly in the lungs.

Vaccinations can help lower your risk of infection. But if you have a weakened immune system, you should avoid vaccines that contain live viruses. These types of vaccinations could cause infection in people with suppressed immune systems.

Vaccinations often recommended for people who have rheumatoid arthritis include:

  • Respiratory influenza. This annual vaccination is also known as the flu shot. The nasal spray version contains live virus, so it's not recommended.
  • Pneumonia. There are two main types of pneumonia vaccines for adults and both are recommended for people who have rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Shingles. The older shingles vaccine (Zostavax) contains live virus, so it's not recommended. While Zostavax is no longer available in the United States, other countries may still use it. The newer shingles vaccine (Shingrix) is not a live virus, so it may be a better option.
  • COVID-19 Some medications commonly used to control rheumatoid arthritis may reduce the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine. Your doctor might recommend temporarily stopping these medications for a short time.

Talk to your doctor about which vaccinations might be appropriate for you, and when during the course of your treatment is the best time to receive them.

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