94% Of Patients With Cancer Respond Well To COVID-19 Vaccine
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In a study, nearly all patients with cancer developed good immune response to the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines three to four weeks after receiving their second dose, but the fact that a small group of the patients exhibited no response raised questions about how their protection against the virus will be addressed moving forward.

Among the 131 patients studied, 94% developed antibodies to the coronavirus. Seven high-risk patients did not. "We could not find any antibodies against the virus in those patients," said Dimpy P. Shah, MD, PhD, of the Mays Cancer Center, home to UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson. "That has implications for the future.

"With other vaccines and infections, patients with cancer have been shown not to develop as robust an immune response as the general population," said study senior coauthor Ruben Mesa, MD, FACP, executive director of the Mays Cancer Center. "It made sense, therefore, to hypothesize that certain high-risk groups of patients do not have antibody response to COVID-19 vaccine."

Among the high-risk groups, patients receiving a therapy called Rituximab within six months of vaccination developed no antibodies. Patients on chemotherapy that is toxic to cells developed antibody response, but it was muted compared to the general population. "How that relates to protection against COVID-19, we don't know yet," Dr. Dimpy Shah said.

The median age of patients in the study was 63. Most of the patients (106) had solid cancers as opposed to hematological malignancies (25). The study population was 80% non-Hispanic white, 18% Hispanic and 2% Black. "We observed a significant difference in response when two doses were given," Dr. Shah said. "At least for patients with cancer, two doses are very important for robust antibody response."

Patients with high-risk cancers, especially those receiving anti-CD20 antibodies, should continue to take precautions even after being vaccinated, the study implies. "They still need to have that awareness that they could potentially be at risk because their body has not responded to vaccination," Dr. Pankil Shah said, , MD, PhD, of the Mays Cancer Center, who served as co-lead author of the study with Alfredo Addeo, MD, senior oncologist at the Geneva University Hospital.