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When You
Have PI

PI and vaccines have a complicated relationship. The immune system normally responds to vaccines by fighting off the weakened or killed form of the germ used to make the vaccine. Immunity is the end result.

Depending on which PI you have, some vaccines can be risky, while others may be beneficial.

Some people with PI have immune systems that are unable to fight the germs used to create certain vaccines—especially those that use a live virus. While some vaccines may be risky for children with PI, others may be beneficial.

Whether a vaccine will help or harm depends upon the type of immunization, the type of treatment you/your child is receiving, and the specific PI disease.

How vaccines work

Vaccines use a live attenuated (weakened) or inactivated form of a virus or bacteria to “trick” the immune system into believing that the body is being invaded by disease. Vaccines stimulate the immune system into producing antibodies. Antibodies are one of the body's defenses that help to fight off infections caused by viruses or bacteria. Your immune system then learns to recognize and attack the infection if you are exposed to it later in life.

Different vaccine responses

For each of the more than 200 types of immune diseases, the response to vaccinations may be different. It is important to recognize that some patients with primary immunodeficiency diseases are able to produce a normal response to vaccines. However, there are many other patients with PI that will be unable to develop protective immunity following vaccination, and in some cases the vaccine itself may represent a threat to the recipient. For example, a child with severe combined immune deficiency (SCID) will not benefit from any vaccines and could be harmed if given a live virus or bacterial vaccine. However, a child with partial DiGeorge syndrome will respond to most vaccines. Be sure to check about benefits and risks of each vaccine for your child’s specific type of PI.

NO live vaccines

People with PI lack the immune defenses necessary to fight certain vaccines. They should not, for example, receive any form of live virus or bacteria vaccine, including measles, oral polio, and chickenpox (varicella).1 Individuals with primary immunodeficiency diseases could potentially contract infections if they receive these immunizations.

In addition, family members or caregivers of PI patients should not receive live virus vaccines because they might spread the virus to the individual with PI. It’s also important for those with PI to avoid contact with others who may have received a live vaccine.

Unlike live vaccines, vaccines that have been inactivated do not pose as high a risk to individuals with PI. For example, the inactivated influenza vaccine is a safe alternative to the live flu vaccine, as are other forms of inactivated vaccines.

Live attenuated virus vaccines

Immunoglobulin (IgG) administration may impair the effectiveness of live attenuated virus vaccines such as measles, rubella, mumps, and chickenpox. The usefulness of vaccination during immunoglobulin treatment is not fully understood.

Talk to your doctor about vaccinations for primary immunodeficiency

Talk to Your Doctor

Researchers are constantly developing vaccines to prevent new and emerging diseases. Use of these and other vaccines in children and adults with PI must be determined on a case-by-case basis. Notify your doctor before getting vaccines if you are receiving immunoglobulin treatment.

For more information about vaccines and PI, talk to your physician.


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