Pregnancy, M.E. and vaccination concerns with Dr Charles Shepherd | 15 February 2019

February 15, 2019


“Dear ME Association,
I'm 7 months' pregnant and being offered the whooping cough vaccine, for my baby, so she's covered for the first 8 weeks after she's born, before she gets a booster.
However, I traced my M.E. back to a series of travel jabs 12 years ago, which could have been caused by one or a combination of inoculations. 
Obviously I want the best for my wee one, but I'm scared the vaccine might trigger an M.E. relapse for me. Does anyone have experience of this? I'm not sure what to do.
My GP suggested that I ask the advice of M.E. experts, as she doesn't have enough experience of this specific situation.
Thank you.”

Message received via ME Association Facebook.


Dr Shepherd, Hon. Medical Adviser, ME Association, comments:

Here is some information that you could discuss with your GP:

Firstly, whooping cough vaccine is obviously recommended during pregnancy. This information comes from the NHS and explains why:

Whooping cough vaccination in pregnancy

There's a lot of whooping cough (pertussis) around at the moment and babies who are too young to start their vaccinations are at greatest risk.

Young babies with whooping cough are often very unwell and most will be admitted to hospital because of their illness. When whooping cough is particularly severe, they can die.

Pregnant women can help protect their babies by getting vaccinated – ideally from 16 weeks up to 32 weeks pregnant. If for any reason you miss having the vaccine, you can still have it up until you go into labour.

Why are pregnant women advised to have the vaccine?

Getting vaccinated while you're pregnant is highly effective in protecting your baby from developing whooping cough in the first few weeks of their life.

The immunity you get from the vaccine will pass to your baby through the placenta and provide passive protection for them until they are old enough to be routinely vaccinated against whooping cough at two months old.

NHS Choices: Whooping cough vaccine while pregnant

Secondly, like any vaccine, this one can cause a number of minor side-effects.  Fortunately, serious side effects are very rare.  Information from the NHS:

“You may have some mild side effects such as swelling, redness or tenderness where the vaccine is injected in your upper arm, just as you would with any vaccine. These only last a few days. Other side effects can include fever, irritation at the injection site, swelling of the vaccinated arm, loss of appetite, irritability and headache. Serious side effects are extremely rare.”

Thirdly, there is a lot of anecdotal information to indicate that a wide range of vaccinations can occasionally trigger ME/CFS or cause an exacerbation of existing symptoms in people with ME/CFS.

However, as far as whopping cough vaccine is concerned, we receive very little information from people with ME/CFS.

As there is no whooping cough-only vaccine, the vaccine that is given also protects against polio, diphtheria and tetanus. The vaccine that is used is called Boostrix IPV.

General information on vaccines and ME/CFS

Anecdotal evidence indicates that a number of vaccinations are occasionally capable of either triggering ME/CFS, or causing an exacerbation of pre-existing symptoms, and the UK CMO Working Group report acknowledged (in section 3.3.2) that vaccinations can occasionally act as a trigger factor in the development of ME/CFS. The CMO report can be e-accessed using the ‘external documents' archive on the ME Association website.

The link is biologically plausible but there hasn't been any really robust research carried out to investigate the role of vaccinations as immune system stressors in the causation of ME/CFS.

Two fairly recent published reports of interest relate to an MHRA review of HPV vaccine (Cervarix) and ME/CFS, and two case reports re: Swine Flu vaccine and ME/CFS from 2013/14.

I have a longstanding interest in the role of vaccinations in ME/CFS and my patient evidence on the subject, which is now quite substantial and includes a number of health workers who were vaccinated almost as a condition of employment, indicates that hepatitis B vaccine appears to play an unusual and significant role here.

This is supported by the results of the MEA website poll on the role of vaccinations as trigger factors for ME/CFS (see below).

ME Association Information Leaflets:

ME Association 2010 Website Survey on Vaccine Triggers:

The ME Association

Please help us continue our work

If you have found this information helpful, then please donate – whatever you can afford – to help us continue with our work to make the UK a better place for people with M.E. Just click the button below to visit our JustGiving page:

Or why not join the ME Association as a member and become a part of our growing community? For a monthly (or annual) payment you will not only be helping to keep us doing what we do best, but will receive our exclusive ME Essential magazine.

ME Association Registered Charity Number 801279


Shopping Basket