Gastroenterology & Hepatology

July 2017 - Volume Volume 13, Issue Issue 7

Vaccination of Patients With Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Francis A. Farraye, MD, MSc

Professor of Medicine
Boston University School of Medicine
Boston, Massachusetts


G&H  How does the vaccination rate in patients with inflammatory bowel disease compare with that of the general population?

FF  Vaccination rates in patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) have been found to be lower than those of the general population. One reason for the difference is that patients with IBD, who are usually otherwise healthy, often think of their gastroenterologist as their primary provider of care, but the gastroenterology team does not perceive that. Consequently, these patients are expecting recommendations for vaccinations from their gastroenterologist, but the gastroenterologist believes that the primary care doctor is responsible for determining which vaccinations are needed and for administering the vaccinations. This fragmentation of care may result in lower rates of vaccination in this high-risk group of patients.

G&H  What other challenges or barriers are associated with vaccination of these patients?

FF  There are several barriers encountered in clinical practice. There is a lack of recognition of the importance of vaccination in otherwise healthy people with IBD. Patients are frequently concerned that their IBD may be exacerbated by vaccination. Thus, it is crucial that the gastroenterology team reassures patients that there are no data that vaccination will worsen their disease activity. In addition, there is no evidence to support an association of childhood vaccination with the development of IBD. There is also a lack of access to vaccination, as both the gastroenterologist and the primary care doctor may not offer this service in their offices. Finally, there may be issues regarding copayments for vaccination.

G&H  Why is vaccination important in patients with IBD?

FF  Immunomodulators and biologics are being used more frequently and earlier in the course of treatment in a subset of patients with IBD. In addition, there has been a consensus that combination therapy is preferred, especially in high-risk patients with IBD, which increases the degree of immunosuppression. It is accepted that immunosuppressed patients, when exposed to infectious agents, can develop severe and, on rare occasions, life-threatening infections. Thus, it is incumbent on the gastroenterologist to either offer vaccinations to their patients or educate the primary care provider regarding which vaccinations are necessary to prevent these rare but serious infectious complications associated with IBD therapy.

Because managing patients with IBD is becoming increasingly complex and gastroenterologists have limited time with patients, vaccinations may not be high on their list of priorities. However, keeping patients safe on effective medical therapy is important; therefore, vaccination counseling should be considered an essential aspect of care when evaluating and treating patients with IBD.

G&H  Which patients with IBD are at greatest risk of vaccine-preventable infections?

FF  All patients with IBD, not only immunosuppressed patients, are at risk for developing certain vaccine-preventable infections. A Danish study found that even prior to the diagnosis of ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, patients with IBD have an increased risk of developing pneumococcal pneumonia, suggesting that the presence of IBD alone increases the risk of infection. Therefore, providers should not wait until patients with IBD start immunosuppressive therapy to update their vaccination status.

IBD patients on immunosuppression are at an increased risk of developing vaccine-preventable diseases. The highest risk is in patients on triple immunosuppression including corticosteroids, immunomodulators, and biologics.

G&H  Does immunosuppression have an effect on vaccine efficacy in IBD patients?

FF  The level of immunosuppression predicts the likelihood of a robust immune response to vaccination. Immunosuppression can be classified as high level (eg, combination therapy with corticosteroids, thiopurines, methotrexate, or biologics) or low level (eg, monotherapy with standard doses of immunomodulators). Patients on monotherapy with thiopurines and/or biologics may have an adequate response to vaccination, but once patients are on combination therapy, their vaccine response decreases.

The level of immunosuppression also plays a role in terms of which types of vaccines (inactive or live) can be used. Patients with IBD can receive all inactive vaccines, regardless of their level of immunosuppression. However, live vaccines—such as the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine; the varicella zoster (chickenpox) vaccine; and the herpes zoster (shingles) vaccine should be used with caution in patients who are on high-level immunosuppression. This is one of the most controversial issues in the vaccination of patients with IBD and an area of ongoing research. For example, research is currently underway on the safety of using the live herpes zoster vaccine (Zostavax, Merck) in IBD patients on anti–tumor necrosis factor agents (NCT02538341). An inactive vaccine for herpes zoster (Shingrix, GlaxoSmithKline) given as two doses 2 to 6 months apart is expected to become available by the end of 2017 and is indicated for patients 50 years and older; this vaccine could be used in immunocompromised patients.

G&H  Can household members of immunosuppressed patients receive live vaccines?

FF  Yes, there is no contraindication to using live vaccines in household members of immunosuppressed IBD patients. An example of such a scenario would be whether an infant cared for by an immunosuppressed parent with IBD could receive the chicken pox vaccine.

On rare occasions, a rash can develop in patients receiving live vaccines. If the household member develops a rash after vaccination, the immunocompromised IBD patient should avoid contact with the vaccinated individual until the rash resolves.

G&H  Specifically, which vaccinations are recommended for patients with IBD?

FF  Patients with IBD should follow all age-appropriate vaccination recommendations made by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) published yearly in the Annals of Internal Medicine. These include, but are not limited to, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and pneumococcal pneumonia vaccinations. If patients with IBD are not immune to hepatitis A and/or hepatitis B, they should be offered a booster or a full vaccination series.

It is important to understand the order in which the 13-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) and 23-valent pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23) should be administered. The ACIP recommends that immunosuppressed IBD patients receive PCV13, followed by PPSV23 2 to 12 months later. If the patient has already received PPSV23, then he or she should receive PCV13 at least 1 year later. A second dose of PPSV23 should be administered 5 years after the first dose and again after the age of 65 years if more than 5 years have elapsed since the previous dose.

In addition, gastroenterologists should recommend the human papilloma virus vaccine to their male and female IBD patients aged 26 years or younger if they have not received it as an adolescent.

Other vaccines listed in the ACIP recommendations include tetanus and diphtheria/tetanus, diphtheria, and acellular pertussis; measles, mumps, and rubella; meningococcus; varicella zoster; and herpes zoster. Providers should refer to the ACIP recommendations for additional details. Tables 1 and 2 include a list of vaccines to consider.

G&H  Are additional vaccines needed for patients with IBD who are traveling?

FF  Additional vaccines are needed for patients with IBD who are traveling to developing countries. Prior to travel, these patients should be evaluated by an infectious disease expert or at a traveler’s clinic. The website for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( is a useful resource for both patients and clinicians trying to determine which areas of the world require which vaccinations. There are certain live vaccines, for example the yellow-fever vaccine, that need to be considered prior to traveling.

G&H  What strategies have been used or examined to increase the vaccination rate of patients with IBD?

FF  One strategy has been to educate gastroenterologists as to the importance of vaccination. Over the past several years, there has been an appreciation of the importance of vaccination for IBD patients, with an increase in the published literature on this topic. In a prospective interventional study in which health care professionals received systematic oral and written information about vaccination guidelines 3 times over 6 months, there was a significant increase in adherence to vaccination guidelines. In my referral practice, I am seeing more patients in whom vaccination issues have been addressed. Educating patients as to the importance of vaccination is crucial. In addition to recommendations from the gastroenterology team, gastroenterology societies have posted information on this issue on their websites.

Another strategy for increasing vaccination is for gastroenterologists to offer vaccinations in their own office. This is an easy and effective way for gastroenterologists to bring their patients up to date with their vaccinations whenever patients visit the office for routine care. If a practice cannot offer vaccination, the gastroenterologist should refer patients to their primary care provider with explicit recommendations for vaccination or provide a prescription for the vaccine and refer patients to their local pharmacy.

Incorporating reminders for vaccination into electronic medical records provides another opportunity to increase vaccination rates.

G&H  What specific resources for vaccinations are available to help gastroenterologists?

FF  It is helpful for providers to keep a copy of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation’s health maintenance recommendations posted in their office. This 1-page checklist (available at includes all recommended vaccines and also comments on other important health maintenance items, such as screening for cervical and skin cancer, depression, and osteoporosis. In addition, Cornerstones Health has a vaccination checklist (available at that can be downloaded, printed, and placed in each examination room to reinforce the importance of vaccination. Primary care providers as well as gastroenterologists can use these checklists as reminders in their busy practices.

G&H  How aware are patients with IBD of the importance of vaccination?

FF  In an online study that my colleagues and I conducted using the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation Partners cohort, a recommendation for vaccination was found to be highly predictive of patients getting a vaccination. Thus, even if gastroenterologists cannot offer vaccination in their office, a recommendation may motivate patients to be vaccinated, either at their primary care provider’s office or at a pharmacy. Many patients think that vaccinations are for children and adolescents, and do not realize that certain vaccinations are necessary for all adults. Therefore, it is important that providers educate patients on the importance of vaccination.

G&H  Do you have advice for gastroenterologists in terms of vaccination in the setting of IBD?

FF  I would advise gastroenterologists to use the first office visit of a newly diagnosed patient with IBD to formulate a series of recommendations for vaccination. In our practice, my colleagues and I obtain a vaccination history when patients are initially seen and then periodically thereafter. Serology for hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and varicella can also be obtained, and serologic testing for measles, mumps, and rubella can be considered. Many patients with IBD will require escalation of medical therapy to include corticosteroids, immunomodulators, and biologics; therefore, when seeing a newly diagnosed, nonimmunosuppressed patient with IBD, gastroenterologists have the ideal window of opportunity to bring the patient’s vaccination history up to date.

Dr Farraye has no relevant conflicts of interest to disclose.

Suggested Reading

Christensen KR, Steenholdt C, Buhl SS, Ainsworth MA, Thomsen OØ, Brynskov J. Systematic information to health-care professionals about vaccination guidelines improves adherence in patients with inflammatory bowel disease in anti-TNFα therapy. Am J Gastroenterol. 2015;110(11):1526-1532.

Farraye FA, Melmed GY, Lichtenstein GR, Kane SV. Corrigendum: ACG clinical guideline: preventive care in inflammatory bowel disease. Am J Gastroenterol. 2017;112(2):241-258.

Gurvits GE, Lan G, Tan A, Weissman A. Vaccination practices in patients with inflammatory bowel disease among general internal medicine physicians in the USA. Postgrad Med J. 2017;93(1100):333-337.

Kantsø B, Simonsen J, Hoffmann S, Valentiner-Branth P, Petersen AM, Jess T. Inflammatory bowel disease patients are at increased risk of invasive pneumococcal disease: a Nationwide Danish Cohort Study 1977-2013. Am J Gastroenterol. 2015;110(11):1582-1587.

Kim DK, Riley LE, Harriman KH, Hunter P, Bridges CB; Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. Recommended immunization schedule for adults aged 19 years or older, United States, 2017. Ann Intern Med. 2017;166(3):209-219.

Reich J, Wasan SK, Farraye FA. Vaccinating patients with inflammatory bowel disease. Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 2016;12(9):540-546.

Reich JS, Farraye FA, Wasan SK. Preventative care in the patient with inflammatory bowel disease: what is new? Dig Dis Sci. 2016;61(8):2205-2216.

Wasan SK, Baker SE, Skolnik PR, Farraye FA. A practical guide to vaccinating the inflammatory bowel disease patient. Am J Gastroenterol. 2010;105(6):1231-1238.

Wasan SK, Calderwood AH, Long MD, Kappelman MD, Sandler RS, Farraye FA. Immunization rates and vaccine beliefs among patients with inflammatory bowel disease: an opportunity for improvement. Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2014;20(2):246-250.

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