COVID Vax Booster Trial Begun in People With Autoimmune Disease

Jeff Evans

August 30, 2021

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In the wake of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation for a third COVID-19 mRNA vaccine dose for immunocompromised people and the Food and Drug Administration’s authorization of the third dose, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has begun a phase 2 trial to assess the antibody response to a booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, or Janssen vaccine in people with autoimmune disease who did not respond to their original COVID-19 vaccine regimen, according to an announcement.

The investigators of the trial, called COVID‐19 Booster Vaccine in Autoimmune Disease Non‐Responders, also want to determine if pausing immunosuppressive therapy for autoimmune disease improves the antibody response to an extra dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

The trial will specifically look at the effects of mycophenolate mofetil (MMF) or mycophenolic acid (MPA), and methotrexate (MTX), or receipt of B cell–depletion therapy such as rituximab within the past 12 months on immune response to a booster dose in people with systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, systemic sclerosis, or pemphigus. They have to have either no serologic response to their initial COVID-19 vaccine regimen or a suboptimal response, defined as a Roche Elecsys Anti-SARS-CoV-2 S (RBD) result greater than or equal to 50 U/mL.

The results of studies conducted in solid-organ transplant recipients who take immunosuppressants showed that an extra dose of vaccine could improve the immune response to the vaccine in many of the individuals, which suggests that the same approach might work in people with autoimmune disease who need treatment with immunosuppressive drugs. Improving the immune response of people with autoimmune disease to COVID-19 vaccines is important because higher rates of severe COVID-19 and death have been reported in this group of patients than in the general population, and it is unclear whether this is attributable to the autoimmune disease, the immunosuppressive medications taken to treat it, or both.

The open-label trial, conducted by the NIAID-funded Autoimmunity Centers of Excellence, aims to enroll 600 people aged 18 years and older with those conditions at 15-20 sites in the United States.

Because medications commonly taken by people with these conditions have been associated with poorer immune responses to vaccines, the trial will randomize the following two cohorts to stop or continue taking their immunosuppressive medication(s) or stop them before and after the booster according to protocol:

  • Cohort 1 includes people who are taking MMF or MPA, without additional B cell–depleting medications or MTX.

  • Cohort 2 includes people who are taking MTX without additional B cell–depleting medications or MMF/MPA.

A third, nonrandomized cohort consists of people who have received B cell–depletion therapy within the past 12 months regardless of whether they are also taking MMF/MPA or MTX.

Besides the cohort-specific exclusions, other rheumatic disease medications, including biologics, are allowed in the groups.

The primary outcome of the trial is the proportion of participants who have a protective antibody response at week 4. Secondary outcomes will examine various antibody responses at intervals, changes in disease activity across autoimmune diseases, adverse events, and SARS-CoV-2 infections out to 48 weeks.

Study participants will be followed for a total of 13 months. Preliminary results are expected in November 2021, according to the National Institutes of Health.

The trial is being led by Judith James, MD, PhD; Meggan Mackay, MD, MS; Dinesh Khanna, MBBS, MSc; and Amit Bar-Or, MD.

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


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