For Blood Cancer Patients, COVID Boosters Can Bring Some Immunity

MONDAY, July 11, 2022 (HealthDay News) -- In a promising development, new research has discovered that most adults with blood cancers develop at least some immunity to COVID-19 after getting booster shots.

"Our findings build on the wealth of literature showing that patients with hematologic malignancies have an impaired response to COVID vaccination," said study author Dr. Thomas Ollila, an assistant professor of medicine in the department of hematology and oncology at Brown University in Rhode Island.

"Importantly, we show that many of these patients who did not respond initially will in fact have a response to booster vaccination," he added in a university news release.

People with blood cancer, including leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma, have impaired immune systems due to the disease. Then treatment, which includes chemotherapy, handicaps the immune system even more.

The study, published July 11 in the journal Cancer, found that less than half of patients with blood cancers developed detectable antibodies after their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

However, 56% of those who were "non-responders" were able to produce antibodies against the disease after their first booster dose.

For the study, the Brown University team analyzed antibody responses among 378 patients with blood cancer. Of those, the investigators found that COVID antibodies were found in the blood of 181 patients (48%) after receiving their initial vaccines. But booster shots were found to be an effective treatment for 48 out of the 85 patients (56%) who were unable to develop antibodies the first time. Patients with active cancer or those currently in treatment were least likely to effectively produce antibodies against the disease.

By the end of the study period, 33 patients had developed a COVID-19 infection, and three patients died from conditions stemming from a COVID infection. No patients in the study with antibody responses died from COVID-19, the researchers said.

The study included patients who were also being treated with the antibody cocktail Evusheld (tixagevimab and cilgavimab), which was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency use during the pandemic to help prevent infection in high-risk individuals. The researchers noted that those who received those therapies were not diagnosed with a COVID infection over the course of the study.

"This is real-world evidence that these actions can save lives," Ollila added.

More information

Yale Medicine has more on blood cancers and leukemia.

SOURCE: Brown University, news release, July 11, 2022

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