14 July 2022

A booster dose of COVID vaccine may often stimulate an immune response in blood cancer patients when the first dose failed, researchers have reported recently.

In a US single-centre study, more than half of people with blood cancer who did not mount detectable antibodies after their initial COVID-19 vaccination went on to produce them after a booster dose.

The study, published in the journal Cancer, retrospectively analysed antibody responses to initial and booster COVID-19 vaccination in 378 patients with haematological malignancies.

Antibodies were detected in the blood of 181 patients (48%) after initial vaccination with one of three US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-authorised or approved COVID-19 vaccines. Patients with active cancer or those recently treated with an immune cell–depleting therapy were least likely to produce these antibodies.

However, of the 85 individuals who did not mount an antibody response after their first vaccination, responses were observed after a booster dose in 48 of them (56%).

By the end of February 2022, 33 patients (8.8%) developed a COVID-19 infection, with three deaths (0.8%). No patient with antibody responses died from the disease.

The researchers, led by Dr Thomas Ollila, of Brown University, Rhode Island, also found no patient who received the antibody therapies tixagevimab plus cilgavimab developed COVID-19.

Dr Ollila said: “Our findings build on the wealth of literature showing that patients with haematologic malignancies have an impaired response to COVID vaccination.

“Importantly, we show that many of these patients who did not respond initially will in fact have a response to booster vaccination. Moreover, when we looked at outcomes, we found that deaths from COVID-19 in the patient population we reviewed only occurred in those with undetectable antibodies, and nobody who received prophylactic antibody therapy was diagnosed with COVID-19.

“This suggests to us the importance of checking antibody levels in these patients and arranging prophylactic antibody therapy.”

Dr Ollila said providing booster vaccines for patients and prioritising prophylactic antibody therapy can save lives.


Ollila TA, Masel RH, Reagan JL, Lu S, Rogers RD, Paiva KJ, Taher R, Burguera-Couce E, Zayac AS, Yakirevich I, Niroula R, Barth P, Olszewski AJ. (2022) “Seroconversion and outcomes after initial and booster COVID-19 vaccination in adults with hematologic malignancies.” Cancer, doi: 10.1002/cncr.34354.

Link: https://acsjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/cncr.34354

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