NOV 11, 2021 7:00 AM PST

Some Patients Left Vulnerable to COVID Even After Getting Vaccinated

WRITTEN BY: Tara Fernandez

Global vaccination efforts continue in the backdrop of the ongoing pandemic. However, new studies demonstrate how several factors strongly influence the extent of immune protection offered by vaccines. Among them are the individual’s underlying health status and the medications they are currently taking.

study presented at the American College of Rheumatology’s annual meeting provides evidence that patients taking immunosuppressive therapies to treat rheumatoid arthritis are more susceptible to COVID infections, even if they are vaccinated.

Interestingly, the study showed that even patients on potent immunosuppressants (administered to weaken the immune system to reduce the impact of autoimmune diseases on the body) could mount antibody responses against SARS-CoV-2. After getting their shots, the researchers found that nearly 90 percent of the study participants on a glucocorticoid or B-cell depleting therapy produced antibodies against the coronavirus.

However, what was eye-opening for the researchers was that patients on immunosuppressants produced about three times lower antibody levels than those not taking these drugs. 

The Washington University School of Medicine St. Louis team found that B-cell depleting agents, glucocorticoids, and JAK inhibitors were among the medications most likely to inhibit antibody responses. Their analyses revealed that B-cell depleting treatments were the worst, resulting in a whopping 36-fold reduction in humoral responses. 

“These results demonstrate that the risk of suboptimal antibody responses is not uniform across rheumatic disease patients on immunosuppression, and certain populations are at much higher risk of poor or absent responses,” said one of the study leads, Alfred Kim. 

These data illustrate the importance of helping these vulnerable patients achieve more robust immune protection against the coronavirus. For example, they might pause their immunosuppression medicines around the time of vaccinations or receive additional vaccination doses to boost protection.

About the Author
  • Tara Fernandez has a PhD in Cell Biology and has spent over a decade uncovering the molecular basis of diseases ranging from skin cancer to obesity and diabetes. She currently works on developing and marketing disruptive new technologies in the biotechnology industry. Her areas of interest include innovation in molecular diagnostics, cell therapies, and immunology. She actively participates in various science communication and public engagement initiatives to promote STEM in the community.
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