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Are Vaccines Safe If I Have IBD?

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Posted by Frank K. Friedenberg, MD, MS (Epi)

Many patients are concerned that vaccines are dangerous if they are being treated for Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).

  • Don't vaccines contain live viruses and bacteria?
  • Could I develop a serious infection?

As it turns out, the truth is just the opposite in most cases. While there are a few vaccines that have potential risks because they contain live organisms, the majority are made of bacterial or viral particles that have no chance of causing an infection.

Let's assume you have IBD and are taking either alone or in combination, prednisone, an immune modulator (e.g. azathioprine), or a biologic agent (e.g. infliximab).

Selected Vaccines That Are Safe For You

  1. Influenza Vaccine ("flu shot") – this vaccine protects against a common viral infection that sometimes results in life-threatening pneumonia. It is an annual vaccination given during the peak flu season (October – March). Note:The nasal flu vaccine is not safe because it contains living viruses.
  2. Pneumococcal Vaccine – this vaccine is usually given every five years and prevents a common bacterial cause of pneumonia.
  3. Hepatitis B Vaccine – this vaccine is usually given to help prevent a serious virus infection of the liver. Hepatitis B can sometimes cause liver failure and liver cancer.
  4. HPV Vaccine - This vaccine is offered to boys and girls between the ages of 11-26 for protection from most of the cancers caused by human papillomavirus infection. HPV is a very common virus that spreads during sexual contact. HPV infection can cause cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers in women and penile cancer in men. HPV can also cause anal cancer, mouth/throat cancer, and genital warts in both men and women.
  5. Tetanus Vaccine - tetanus is a bacterial infection that can cause painful muscle spasms and sometimes lead to death. The vaccine is usually given every 10 years, and is often given in combination with a vaccine that prevents diphtheria.

Selected Vaccines That May Not Be Safe for You

  1. The measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine – this vaccine is usually given in early childhood, but sometimes adults are vaccinated to protect against these three infections. The vaccine is composed of live viruses.
  2. Shingles Vaccine – commonly given once at age 60, this vaccine helps protect your body from the reactivation of the chickenpox (varicella-zoster) virus. When you recover from chickenpox, the virus stays within your body. For unknown reasons, it can sometimes reactivate years later, causing shingles. The shingles vaccine is composed of live viruses.
  3. Rotavirus Vaccine – this live virus vaccine is normally given to infants beginning at two months of age to help prevent life-threatening diarrhea. Mothers on a biologic drug should not vaccinate their infants after delivery, as biologic drugs can suppress the immune system of the baby for up to six months after birth.

If you have any questions about specific vaccines or other issues related to the treatment of IBD, you should speak to your Temple physician or healthcare provider.

The information on this Site is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical professional help, advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions that you have regarding your medical care. For more information, see our Terms of Use.

Frank K. Friedenberg, MD, MS (Epi)

Frank K. Friedenberg, MD, MS (Epi), is Chief of the Section of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at Temple University Hospital, and a Professor of Medicine at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University. Dr. Friedenberg specializes in IBD and is consistently named one of the Best Doctors in America. An active clinician and researcher, Dr. Friedenberg has numerous publications to his credit, and his clinical and research interests include Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

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