Researchers with the University of Pennsylvania have good news for people who have multiple sclerosis and are taking anti-CD20 treatment — though their antibody response triggered by the vaccine may be low, their bodies are still able to produce “robust T-cell responses” against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. As a result, the researchers say MS patients receiving the anti-CD20 treatment should still get the COVID-19 vaccines.
Immunocompromised individuals are at greater risk of severe COVID-19 infections, making it more important than ever to protect them from contracting the virus. The vaccines offer the greatest protection, but they aren’t as effective in people who have a suppressed immune system. As a result, the government is encouraging these individuals to get a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose.
Researchers with the University of Pennsylvania looked into the vaccine’s effects in individuals who are receiving anti-CD20 treatment for multiple sclerosis. This treatment works to deplete the body’s B cells, which drive antibody production and is also a big factor in MS attacks. Depleting the cells impacts the body’s ability to make antibodies in response to the vaccine.
As a result of this, individuals who have MS and are receiving this treatment experience a lackluster antibody response to the COVID-19 vaccines. The new study found that despite this, their bodies are still able to mount a strong T-cell response against the virus; these immune cells work to purge infected cells, hampering the virus’s ability to spread to other healthy cells.
E. John Wherry, Ph.D., one of the study’s senior authors, said:
The message from this study is clear – it is worthwhile for patients with MS receiving aCD20 treatment to get a COVID-19 vaccine, which will prevent severe illness. Based on this body of evidence, we urge patients with MS receiving aCD20 treatment to get a COVID-19 vaccine if they haven’t already.