IBD: COVID-19 Vaccination Still Effective in Immunosuppressed

Brandon May

August 06, 2021

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In a real-world setting, full vaccination against SARS-CoV-2 was more than 80% effective at reducing infection in people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) who were taking immunosuppressive medications.

The study, which examined postvaccine infection rates in a Veterans Affairs cohort, further validates the benefit of COVID-19 vaccines, particularly in a subgroup most at risk for having compromised immune systems. Furthermore, the findings "may serve to increase patient and provider willingness to pursue vaccination in these settings," wrote study authors Nabeel Khan, MD, of the Corporal Michael J. Crescenz VA Medical Center and Nadim Mahmud, MD, of the University of Pennsylvania, both in Philadelphia. The report was published in Gastroenterology. In addition, the researchers said the findings "should provide positive reinforcement to IBD patients taking immunosuppressive agents who may otherwise be reluctant to receive vaccination."

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, concerns have been raised regarding the possible heightened risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection among patients with IBD and other diseases associated with immune system dysregulation. Despite these fears, patients with IBD appear to have comparable rates of SARS-CoV-2 infection to that of the general population.

Pfizer's BNT162b2 and Moderna's RNA-1273 vaccines are the most widely used COVID-19 vaccines in the United States. These vaccines have demonstrated over 90% efficacy for preventing infection and severe disease in late-stage trials; however, few trials have examined their pooled effectiveness in immunocompromised patients and those taking immunosuppressive therapies.

To address this gap, researchers conducted a retrospective cohort study that included 14,697 patients (median age, 68 years) from the Veterans Health Administration database who had been diagnosed with IBD before the start date of the administration's vaccination program. A total of 7,321 patients in the cohort had received at least 1 dose of either the Pfizer (45.2%) or Moderna (54.8%) vaccines.

Approximately 61.8% of patients had ulcerative colitis, while the remaining patients had Crohn's disease. In terms of medications, vaccinated versus unvaccinated patients in the study were exposed to mesalamine alone (54.9% vs. 54.6%), thiopurines (10.8% vs. 10.5%), anti–tumor necrosis factor (anti-TNF) biologic monotherapy (18.8% vs. 20.9%), vedolizumab (7.2% vs. 6.0%), ustekinumab (1.0% vs. 1.1%), tofacitinib (0.7% vs. 0.8%), methotrexate (2.3% vs. 2.0%%), and/or corticosteroids (6.8% vs. 5.6%).

A total of 3,561 patients who received the Moderna vaccine and 3,017 patients who received the Pfizer vaccine received both doses. The median time between each dose was 21 days for Pfizer and 28 days for Moderna.

Patients who were unvaccinated had significantly fewer comorbidities (P < .001). The majority of patients in the overall cohort were men (92.2%), a group identified as having a much greater risk of worse COVID-19–related outcomes.

Unvaccinated patients in the study had a higher rate of SARS-CoV-2 infection compared with the fully vaccinated group (1.34% vs. 0.11%, respectively) in follow-up data reported through April 20, 2021. Over a median follow-up duration of 20 days, researchers found 14 infections with SARS-CoV-2 (0.28%) in partially vaccinated individuals. Seven infections (0.11%) were reported in fully vaccinated individuals over a median 38-day follow-up period.

Compared with unvaccinated patients, full vaccination status was associated with a 69% reduction in the hazard ratio of infection (HR, 0.31; 95% confidence interval, 0.17-0.56; P < .001). Corresponding vaccine efficacy rates were 25.1% for partial vaccination and 80.4% for full vaccination.

There were no significant interactions between vaccination status and exposure to steroids (P =.64), mesalamine versus immunosuppressive agents (P =.46), or anti-TNFs with immunomodulators or steroids versus other therapies (P =.34). In addition, no difference was found in the association between vaccination status and infection for patients who received the Moderna versus the Pfizer vaccines (P =.09).

Unvaccinated individuals had the highest raw proportions of severe infection with the novel coronavirus (0.32%) and all-cause mortality (0.66%), compared with people who were partially vaccinated or fully vaccinated. In adjusted Cox regression analyses, there was no significant association between vaccination status and severe SARS-CoV-2 infection (fully vaccinated vs. unvaccinated, P = .18) or all-cause mortality (fully vaccinated vs. unvaccinated, P =.11). The researchers wrote that, "future studies with larger sample size and/or longer follow-up are needed to evaluate this further."

An important limitation of this study was the inclusion of mostly older men who were also predominantly White (80.4%). Ultimately, this population may limit the generalizability of the findings for women and patients of other races/ethnicities.

While the study received no financial support, Khan has received research grants from several pharmaceutical companies, but Mahmud disclosed no conflicts.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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