Multiple Sclerosis

Established in 1982, the Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Clinic is a part of the Mobility Program at St. Michael’s and is one of many specialty centres of MS care across Canada that is dedicated to treatment, education and research in MS. The clinic is one of the largest of its kind in North America, and one of seven adult centres in Ontario focusing on diagnosis and treatments. The clinic is staffed by eight MS neurology specialists and accommodates more than 7,000 patients from the Greater Toronto Area. The clinic takes a multidisciplinary approach through allied health professionals that provide occupational therapy and social work services.

9 Donnelly Wing South, 30 Bond St.
416-864-5377
Fax: 416-864-5378
Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

COVID-19 Alert

At Unity Health, we are asking patients who meet the eligibility criteria for vaccination, including those in the highest risk category for health conditions (which includes people with MS), to either:

  1. Book an appointment through the provincial COVID-19 Vaccine Call Centre (1-833-943-3900, 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. daily) OR
  2. Book through our Unity Health website.  

For patients who live a distance from Unity Health Toronto, the provincial COVID-19 Vaccine Call Centre may be easier to use, as appointments can be booked at COVID vaccine sites close to your home.

In accordance with public health guidelines, we recommend that MS patients or those with other neuroinflammatory disorders get whichever COVID vaccine is available to them for dose 2, regardless of what type of vaccine they received for dose 1.  In other words, you may receive one vaccine product for your first dose and a different vaccine product for your second dose to complete your two-dose vaccine series.  Please see full guidelines issued by the government of Canada.

Please note: we are asking patients to book their own appointments to ensure appointments are booked at a convenient time for you.  Because of the large number of patients at Unity Health, our teams are unable to book patients’ appointments as this would delay booking and access to appointment slots. The MS clinic cannot control the timing of your second dose of COVID vaccine. The second dose of the COVID vaccine will be administered as per Ontario public health guidelines, currently at 16 weeks.

For patients who wish to book an appointment through our Unity Health website:

  • If there are no appointments when you try to book, check again on Thursday evening. New appointments will be added every Thursday at 7 p.m.
  • You will not be asked for proof of a health condition, however, at your appointment the vaccine clinic team may ask you a few questions to ensure you are eligible

Multiple Sclerosis at St. Michael's Hospital

NOTE: The recommendations in this document are general guidelines that should be applied when you become eligible for a vaccine in Ontario’s phased vaccination program.

Data on the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines in those with multiple sclerosis (MS) and other neuroimmunological disorders are not yet available. Our guide is based on data from the general population in the vaccine clinical trials and data from studies of other vaccines in MS. Our guide will be updated as more is learned about the vaccines.  These statements are in line with what is recommended by the Canadian Network of MS Clinics and the National (USA) MS Society recommendations.  Full statements from both organizations can be found here:

The following statements have been approved by the neurologists at the St. Michael’s Hospital MS Clinic, and are intended to be used as guidance statements regarding COVID-19 vaccination in people with MS (pwMS) and other neuroimmunological disorders who are eligible to receive their vaccination in their jurisdiction. In specific situations, it may be necessary to discuss timing of specific medications further with your treating neurologist at your next clinic appointment (details below).

  • We recommend that all persons with MS and other neuroimmunological disorders receive their COVID-19 immunization when eligible to receive it, since the risks of COVID-19 infection appear to outweigh the potential risks of the vaccine.
  • The currently available vaccines (from Pfizer/BioNtech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson) do not contain live virus and will not cause COVID-19 infection. We have no reason to believe these COVID-19 vaccines will be dangerous for people with MS, including those on immunosuppressive drugs. It is unlikely that these vaccines will exacerbate MS or its symptoms, provoke a relapse, or prevent disease modifying therapies (DMTs) from being effective.
  • Patients should not delay receiving the vaccine once they are eligible unless their MS treatment necessitates it (see below). This is because people with progressive MS, those who are older, those who have a higher level of physical disability, and those with certain medical conditions (e.g., diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, heart and lung disease) are among groups with the highest risk for hospitalization due to COVID-19.
  • It is important to continue your disease modifying therapy (DMT) UNLESS advised by your MS healthcare provider to stop or delay it. Stopping some DMTs abruptly can cause your MS to worsen. Overall, it will generally not be advisable for people to change their MS treatment to increase the efficacy of vaccines, because the potential harm would outweigh the potential benefit. Even a reduced response is better than none, so you should still get vaccinated when eligible — even if on these therapies.
  • For those taking Ocrevus (ocrelizumab) or Rituxan (rituximab) —you may need to coordinate the timing of your vaccine with the timing of your next dose.  We generally recommend receiving the COVID-19 vaccine 4 – 5 months after your last dose.  Once you complete the COVID-19 vaccine schedule, (for many of the above listed vaccines, 2 doses are required), you can receive the next dose of Ocrevus or Rituxan 4 weeks later.  When you receive notification that you will be able to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, please let the infusion support program know (COMPASS) so that your treating neurologist will provide recommendations to adjust the timing of your next dose as necessary.
  • For those taking Kesimpta (ofatumumab) —you may need to coordinate the timing of your vaccine with the timing of your next dose. We generally recommend receiving the COVID-19 vaccine 4 weeks after your last dose. Once you complete the COVID-19 vaccine schedule, you can receive the next dose of Kesimpta 4 weeks later. When you receive notification that you will be able to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, please let the patient support program know (GO program) so that your treating neurologist will provide recommendations to adjust the timing of your next dose as necessary.
  • For those taking Mavenclad (cladribine tablets), the COVID-19 vaccine should be taken 3-6 months after the last dose, ideally when lymphocyte counts have recovered. If you are due for Treatment Cycle 2 of Mavenclad, you may want to discuss delaying Cycle 2 until you have received the COVID-19 vaccine. When you receive notification that you will be able to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, please let the Mavenclad support program know (Adveva) so that your treating neurologist will provide recommendations to adjust the timing of your next dose as necessary.If you have completed two treatment cycles of Mavenclad, and it has been more than 6 months after the last tablet of Cladribine, and your lymphocyte counts have recovered, we would recommend that you get the COVID-19 vaccine when available to you, as long as you do not have any other contraindications.
  • For those taking Lemtrada (alemtuzumab), the COVID-19 vaccine should be taken 3-6 months after the last dose ideally when lymphocyte counts have recovered. If you are due for Treatment Cycle 2, you may want to discuss delaying this until you have received the COVID-19 vaccine. When you receive notification that you will be able to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, please let the Lemtrada support program know (One to One) so that your treating neurologist will provide recommendations to adjust the timing of your next dose as necessary.If you have completed two treatment cycles of Lemtrada, and it has been more than 6 months after the last dose, and your lymphocyte counts have recovered, we would recommend that you get the COVID-19 vaccine when it is available to you, as long as you do not have any other contraindications.
  • In some instances, after discussion with you, your neurologist may recommend delaying initiation of Ocrevus, Kesimpta, Mavenclad, or Lemtrada until you get the COVID-19 vaccine. However, for patients with very active MS, risk of disease progression if treatment is delayed may outweigh risk of potential COVID-19 infection. This decision will be easier once we have a better idea of the vaccination schedule for the public.
  • For patients on fingolimod (Gilenya or generic fingolimod), Ozanimod (Zeposia), or siponimod (Mayzent) the response to the COVID-19 vaccine may be decreased, but we would recommend that you still get the vaccine (as long as you do not have any other contraindications) even if the response is not complete, since even a reduced response is better than none.
  • Most other disease-modifying treatments are not perceived to interfere with vaccine responses, including glatiramer acetate (Copaxone and Glatect), teriflunomide (Aubagio), dimethyl fumarate (Tecfidera), interferon beta agents (Avonex, Plegridy, Rebif, Betaseron, Extavia), and natalizumab (Tysabri). PwMS on these medications are recommended to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it is available to you, as long as you do not have any other contraindications.
  • For patients on azathioprine (Imuran), mycophenolate mofetil (Cellcept), or daily prednisone the response to the COVID-19 vaccine may be decreased, but we would recommend that you still get the vaccine (as long as you do not have any other contra-indications) even if the response is not complete, since even a reduced response is better than none.
  • For patients who have received high-dose steroids in the recent past for a relapse (intravenous methylprednisolone [solumedrol]) or high-dose prednisone (1000-1250 mg daily for 3-5 days), we would recommend delaying the COVID vaccine until 2-4 weeks after the last dose.
  • The safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines are unclear in pregnant/breastfeeding women, but pregnant/breastfeeding women may be at a higher risk of COVID-19 and complications. For pwMS and other neuroimmunological disorders who are pregnant/breastfeeding, COVID-19 vaccination should be discussed with all involved health care providers, including your obstetrician, family doctor and neurologist.
  • Vaccination with the COVID-19 vaccine does not guarantee immunity to COVID-19. Even after getting vaccinated, we strongly recommend that all of our patients continue to remain cautious and follow all public health precautions. In addition to getting vaccinated, wearing a face mask, social distancing and washing your hands are the best ways to slow the spread of the virus and should be continued even once you get a COVID-19 vaccine

Appointments

Due to the evolving COVID-19 situation, our Multiple Sclerosis Clinic physicians are working towards offering telephone or virtual appointment visits. You will be contacted by reception with further information to arrange these appointments. If you are unable to receive a telephone or virtual appointment, we will postpone your appointment to a later date. This is for the safety of our patients, staff and community and to help slow the transmission of COVID-19.

Relapses or attacks

If you are experiencing an MS relapse or attack (which is the sudden onset of a new MS symptom that is lasting longer than 24-48 hours in the absence of an infection or fever), please call the relapse line at 416-864-5333 and press 1. You will be prompted to leave a message. A registered nurse will call you back with directions. Please only use the Emergency Department for emergencies.

Questions about COVID-19

If you have questions regarding COVID-19, please contact Telehealth at 1-866-797-0000 or your local public health unit.

Your medications and COVID-19

If you are on a disease-modifying therapy (DMT) for your multiple sclerosis, please do not stop your medication before speaking with the clinic.

MS itself does not increase the risk of getting COVID-19 however, certain factors associated with your MS may increase your risk of infection or complications:

  • Certain disease-modifying therapies
  • Other chronic health conditions
  • Age greater than 60

The following DMTs generally do not suppress the immune system and do not place you at risk of infections –including COVID-19. These include:

  • Copaxone (Glatiramer acetate)
  • Glatect
  • Interferons (Betaseron, Rebif, Avonex, Extavia, Plegridy)
  • Aubagio (Teriflunomide)
  • Tysabri (Natalizumab)

The following DMTs may slightly weaken your immune system and may place you at a low risk of infections, including COVID-19. These include:

  • Tecfidera (Dimethyl fumarate)
  • Gilenya (Fingolimod)

The following DMTs will weaken your immune system and may place you at a greater risk of infections, including COVID-19. These include:

  • Ocrevus (Ocrelizumab)
  • Mavenclad (Cladribine)
  • Lemtrada (alemtuzumab) *only those who recently received an infusion of Lemtrada)

Some physicians may have decided to postpone your Ocrevus (ocrelizumab) infusion or delay your Mavenclad (cladribine) therapy. We encourage you to stay in contact with your patient support program for ongoing updates. They will be contacting you under the direction of your neurologist.

We encourage you to follow all preventive measures recommended by public health: social distancing, washing hands often, avoiding touching your face and self-isolating for 14 days after travel.

For reliable, up-to-date information on COVID-19, check the following websites:

Last updated June 23, 2021