COVID-19 Booster Sparks Antibody Response in Patients With Blood Cancer Who Didn’t Benefit from Initial Vaccination

Findings from previous studies have shown that patients with blood cancers have been less likely to produce antibodies that protect them against COVID-19 after vaccination, but new research indicates that the booster shot may help.

While prior research showed that patients with blood cancers, such as leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma, were less likely to gain immunity from COVID-19 vaccination, new study results demonstrated that more than half of prior vaccine non-responders developed antibodies against the virus after receiving a booster dose.

“This is real world evidence that these actions can save lives,” said lead study author Dr. Thomas A. Ollila, a hematologist/oncologist at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, said in a press release.

READ MORE: Patients With Blood Cancer Less Likely to Produce COVID-19 Antibodies After Vaccination

The study, which was recently published in the American Cancer Society’s peer-reviewed journal, Cancer, analyzed the antibody response to the initial and then booster dosage of the COVID-19 vaccine in 378 patients with blood cancers.

Findings showed that anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies (which protect against COVID-19 infection and show that the vaccine is working) were found in 48% of patients after their first vaccination. Patients with active cancer or who were recently treated with therapy that depletes their immune cells were less likely to have antibodies.

Then, among the patients who did not have an immune response after the first vaccination effort, 56% developed antibodies after receiving the booster dose.

“Our findings build on the wealth of literature showing that patients with hematologic malignancies have an impaired response to COVID vaccination,” Ollila noted. “Importantly, we show that many of these patients who did not respond initially will in fact have a response to booster vaccination.”

When study data were collected at the end of February 2022, 33 patients (8.8%) received a diagnosis of COVID-19, while three patients (0.8%, all of whom did not have an antibody) died from the virus.

Of note, researchers did not see a link between vaccine-related antibody response and COVID-19 infection.

“(W)hen we looked at outcomes, we found that deaths from COVID-19 in the patient population we reviewed only occurred in those with undetectable antibodies, and nobody who received prophylactic antibody therapy was diagnosed with COVID-19,” Ollila concluded. “This suggests to us the importance of checking antibody levels in these patients and arranging prophylactic antibody therapy.”

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