Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is chronic (long-term) multisystem disorder that affects various joints, particularly of the hands and feet, causing severe pain and deformities. Advanced RA can also attack the eyes, heart, lungs, kidneys, and nerves, resulting in severe disability and distress.
Individuals with RA have poor immune responses because of the disease itself and the medications they are on. This puts them at a higher-than-average risk of COVID-19 infection and complications. COVID-19 complications in these individuals may include acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS; a type of severe dysfunction of the lungs), myocarditis (swelling of the heart muscles), and secondary bacterial sepsis (a severe infection).
Although there is much about the COVID-19 virus that we do not know, doctors all over the world agree that vaccination against the virus is an important measure to stay safe in this pandemic.
Are COVID-19 vaccines safe in individuals with RA?
Most inactivated or non-live vaccines (vaccines that do not carry a living virus) can be administered to individuals with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and are highly recommended. Based on current research, two non-live vaccines by Moderna and Pfizer appear to be safe in individuals with RA. The active content of these vaccines is mRNA that poses little to no risk to the affected individual. The only contraindications to these vaccines are as follows:
- If you have a history of severe allergies to any vaccine in the past
- If you are pregnant
- If you are less than 18 years of age.
- If you are on blood thinners such as Acitrom or have any bleeding disorders, you must talk to your doctor before going for the shot.
The vaccine may be less effective in individuals with RA compared with the general population because of drugs against rheumatoid arthritis (DMARDs) administered to these patients. Still, some protection is better than no protection. The potential for benefit from a complete dose of vaccination likely outweighs most vaccine uncertainties. Other preventive measures such as wearing a mask, maintaining social distancing, frequent hand washing, avoiding unwanted traveling, and social distancing must be practiced even after the vaccine is administered.
The degree to which the vaccine is effective depends upon your RA medication schedule and the type of medicines you take. Riabni, Rituxan, Ruxience, and Truxima (rituximab) are associated with the greatest decline in response to vaccinations followed by Otrexup, Rasuvo, Rheumatrex, and Trexall (methotrexate), and Orencia (abatacept). However, even this slightly less effective vaccine may help prevent the severe disease that otherwise requires hospitalization or intensive care unit (ICU) admission.
What is the right schedule for getting vaccinated?
Most of the COVID-19 vaccines consist of two shots given intramuscularly. The first shot is to start building protection. The second shot is to boost the protection level. Currently, we do not know exactly how long the immunity conferred by the vaccines will last. The Pfizer vaccine is given in two doses 21 days apart, and the Moderna vaccine is given as two shots 30 days apart. Both these are mRNA types of vaccines that cause our white blood cells to mount a response against a COVID-19-specific protein. These vaccines have no live germs in them that can pose danger to your body.
The non-live vaccines (Moderna and Pfizer) must be given at least 2 weeks prior to the start of immunosuppression therapy.
For individuals already on therapy, withholding immunosuppression therapy drugs, especially rituximab, methotrexate, and abatacept, temporarily around the time of vaccination and substituting these with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), hydroxychloroquine, or prednisone may be attempted. This may increase the vaccine efficacy, but this approach may also cause rheumatoid arthritis (RA) to flare up. Opinions about this differ among different specialists. You must seek advice from your treating physician regarding what will be the best for you. Depending on your disease severity and blood markers for RA, your physician will suggest what works for your body. Never change your medications without consulting your doctor.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Top Rheumatoid Arthritis and COVID-19 Related Articles
Breastfeeding With Rheumatoid ArthritisYou can breastfeed your baby even if you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA). However, you must always consult your doctor before you start the process.
COVID-19 Vaccine Myths and FactsThe FDA has granted Emergency Use Authorizations for COVID-19 vaccines that have been shown to be safe and effective as established by data from large clinical trials.
How Serious Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disorder that typically affects the joints and other body parts, such as the skin, eyes, lungs, heart and blood vessels. RA is an autoimmune disorder, a condition where the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues. If not diagnosed early and appropriately treated, RA can lead to permanent deformities, disabilities and serious systemic complications.
Osteoarthritis vs. Rheumatoid ArthritisOsteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are chronic joint disorders. RA is also an autoimmune disease. OA and RA symptoms and signs include joint pain, warmth, and tenderness. Over-the-counter pain relievers treat both diseases. There are several prescription medications that treat RA.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation of the joints, the tissue around the joints, as well as other organs in the body. Because it can affect multiple other organs of the body, rheumatoid arthritis is referred to as a systemic illness and is sometimes called rheumatoid disease. The 16 characteristic early RA signs and symptoms include the following.
- Both sides of the body affected (symmetric)
- Joint deformity
- Joint pain
- Joint redness
- Joint stiffness
- Joint swelling
- Joint tenderness
- Joint warmth
- Loss of joint function
- Loss of joint range of motion
- Many joints affected (polyarthritis)
16 Early Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) Symptoms and SignsEarly RA symptoms and signs vary differently from person to person. The most common body parts that are initially affected by RA include the small joints of the hands, wrists, and feet, and the knees and hip joints. Joint inflammation causes stiffness. Warmth, redness, and pain may vary in degree.
RA Friendly ExercisesRegular exercise boosts fitness and helps reverse joint stiffness for people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). WebMD demonstrates helpful exercises to get you started.
RA SlideshowWhat is rheumatoid arthritis (RA)? Learn about treatment, diagnosis, and the symptoms of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Discover rheumatoid arthritis (RA) causes and the best medication for RA and JRA.
RA QuizHow is rheumatoid arthritis different from other forms of arthritis, such as osteoarthritis and gout? Take the Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) Quiz to rest your RA IQ.
Famous Faces of RALearn more about the famous faces of rheumatoid arthritis such as Lucille Ball, Glenn Frey, and more.
Rheumatoid Arthritis vs. ArthritisArthritis is a general term used to describe joint disease. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a type of arthritis in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the joints, causing chronic inflammation.
Rheumatoid Arthritis vs. FibromyalgiaThough rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and fibromyalgia have similar symptoms, RA is an autoimmune disease and fibromyalgia is a chronic pain syndrome. RA symptoms include joint redness, swelling, and pain that lasts more than six weeks. Fibromyalgia symptoms include widespread pain, tingling feet or hands, depression, and bowel irritability. Home remedies for both include stress reduction, exercise, and getting enough sleep.
Rheumatoid Arthritis vs. Lupus: Differences and SimilaritiesRheumatoid arthritis (RA) and lupus are two varieties of autoimmune diseases that cause flare-ups. While RA attacks the immune system on the joints, lupus involves many other parts of the body besides the joints. Common RA symptoms involve warm, swollen, and painful joints; morning stiffness in the joints or stiffness after inactivity, joint deformity, fever, fatigue, etc. Lupus symptoms include Malar rash (butterfly-shaped rash involving the cheeks and bridge of the nose), fever, joint pain in the absence of joint deformity, etc.
Safest Rheumatoid Arthritis Drugs During PregnancyNone of the drugs used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is completely safe during pregnancy. You must discuss with your physician regarding the decision to use, modify, or stop any medications.
What Drugs May Fight COVID-19? Drug Trials, Treatments, VaccinesWhat drugs could help fight coronavirus COVID-19? Clinical studies are ongoing for antiviral drugs like hydroxychloroquine, chloroquine remdesivir, lopinavir and favipiravir, as well as COVID-19 vaccines. Learn why anti-flu respiratory drugs and home remedies may prove useful to treat or prevent serious coronavirus infections.
What Are the Four Stages of Rheumatoid Arthritis?Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease characterized by pain and inflammation in joints, typically of the hands and feet. It is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system of the body attacks its own healthy cells, resulting in inflammation of the membrane lining the joints and damage to joint tissue.