What is it about?

The severity of COVID-19 varies across patients, depending on the strengths of their immune systems. It can range from a mild respiratory infection to even pneumonia and death. Patients with cancer have weak immune systems, making them prone to severe COVID-19 illness and death. Among them, patients with blood cancers are at the greatest risk. Effective vaccination against COVID-19 may help these patients get timely treatment for cancer. This study's authors examined how COVID-19 vaccination affects the immune response in patients with blood cancer. They chose to study three types of blood cancer: leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma. They tested the amount of antibodies (proteins that help the body fight disease) produced by two vaccines in different patient groups. The authors found that 3 months after vaccination, 68.9% of the patients had produced antibodies. However, only 43.6% of the antibodies could fight the infection. This number was half of that observed in healthy people. Overall, while patients with cancer had a weak immune response, those with multiple myeloma had higher antibody levels. Patients who received the mRNA-1273 vaccine had higher antibody levels than those who did not. In addition, different cancer treatments lowered the immune response of these patients even further.

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Why is it important?

In patients with blood cancer, the cancer therapy suppresses the immune system. The cancer subtype and vaccine also affect this response. Hence, they do not respond well to COVID-19 vaccination. In some patients, the authors saw that sufficient antibodies had been produced. However, most of these were not effective. Hence, we need to optimize clinical care for these patients, by implementing a vaccine dose regimen which interferes minimally with their anti-cancer therapy. In addition, we need to provide these patients with protection against COVID-19, which goes beyond vaccination alone. These measures will prevent them from facing the risk of severe COVID-19 illness. KEY TAKEAWAY: The severity of COVID-19 depends on the strength of the immune system. For this reason, patients with blood cancer do not respond well to COVID-19 vaccines. An optimized clinical care regimen should be developed for these patients.

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This page is a summary of: Disease- and Therapy-Specific Impact on Humoral Immune Responses to COVID-19 Vaccination in Hematologic Malignancies, Blood Cancer Discovery, September 2021, American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), DOI: 10.1158/2643-3230.bcd-21-0139.
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