1 in 4 Patients With NSCLC Respond Poorly to COVID-19 Vaccine

Jim Kling

August 05, 2022

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

About one in four patients with non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) have an unsatisfactory antibody response to the Omicron variant following COVID-19 vaccination, according to a new study.

The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

"Booster vaccination increased binding and neutralizing antibody titers to Omicron, but antibody titers declined after 3 months. These data highlight the concern for patients with cancer given the rapid spread of SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant," wrote the authors, who were led by Rafi Ahmed, PhD, Emory University, Atlanta.

Researchers found that 18% had no detectable antibody at all and active treatment type had no association with vaccine response.

Researchers examined antibody titers among 82 NSCLC patients and 53 healthy volunteers. They collected blood samples longitudinally for analysis. While most patients had binding and neutralizing antibody titers that were comparable with healthy volunteers, 25% had poor responses, which led to six- to sevenfold lower titers than healthy controls.

There was no association between worse vaccine responses and history of programmed death–1 monotherapy, chemotherapy, or both in combination. Receipt of a booster vaccine improved binding and neutralizing antibody titers to both the wild type and the Omicron variant, but 2-4 months after the booster there was a five- to sevenfold decrease in neutralizing titers to both the wild type and Omicron variant.

"This study indicates both the need to monitor our patients with lung cancer for response to COVID-19 mRNA vaccines, identify the nonresponders for follow-up and further attempts at immunization, and continue collecting and analyzing clinicodemographic information and biospecimens from our patients," wrote the authors of an accompanying editorial.

Although the findings reveal potential concerns, the good news is that most patients NSCLC patients do respond normally to COVID-19 vaccination, said John D. Minna, MD, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, lead author of the editorial.

He offered some advice to physicians. "You can test your patients using currently available [Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments]–approved lab tests to determine what their antibody titers are. This should be done after boosting since titers will go down after time. We know that if a patient has lung cancer and they do get infected with SARS-CoV-2 that potentially they could develop serious COVID-19 disease. Besides giving antiviral treatment, it is important that they be closely monitored for symptoms of progression so if they need to be hospitalized it can be done in a prudent manner," said Minna, who is director of the Hamon Center for Therapeutic Oncology Research at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

No clinical details have emerged that might predict which patients have an insufficient response to vaccination. "When we started these studies, a lot of us thought that anyone who did not develop a good antibody response would be weak or sicker. For example, [patients with] late-stage disease, or having had a lot of therapy, or perhaps immune checkpoint blockade. However, none of these things are correlated. The main advice we are giving our lung cancer patients are to get vaccinated, get boosted (double boosted), and just do the smart thing to protect yourself from exposure," he said.

For example, when traveling on a plane, patients should wear a mask. They should also avoid large indoor events. He also recommended that, following vaccination and boosters, patients seek out CLIA-certified tests to get their titer checked.

"Upon any COVID infection, even if their titer is at or above 80%, patients should see their physician to consider treatment with Paxlovid (nirmatrelvir/ritonavir), which has emergency use authorization. For patients with a lower titer, it's important to seek out a physician and consider Paxlovid and possibly antibody therapy. But these are individual decisions to be made with your doctor," Minna said.

The next important research question is what happens to T-cell immune response following vaccination. "We know that a good cellular immune response is also important in preventing infection and severe infection, but we don't yet know which persons (with or without cancer) have good T-cell responses. This information will also likely impact what we tell our patients and will add to the antibody data," he said.

Studies are ongoing to determine specific T-cell responses to mRNA vaccines, and how well those T-cell responses respond to SARS-CoV-2 infection in the laboratory.

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

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