NIH kicks off extra COVID-19 vaccine dose trial with autoimmune patients

The National Institutes of Health has announced the start of a new trial that involves giving a third COVID-19 vaccine dose to individuals with autoimmune diseases. The trial will also look into the possibility of 'pausing' autoimmune treatments that involve immunosuppressive drugs to see whether doing so will improve antibody response against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The third COVID-19 vaccine dose may apply to individuals who didn't respond well to the original two-dose regimen (depending on which vaccine was given) due to an underlying autoimmune disease. The reason is obvious: someone with an autoimmune disease may be taking an immunosuppressive medication, which suppresses the immune system.

A suppressed immune system won't respond as well to the COVID-19 vaccines as a healthy immune system, which could result in a poor antibody response that leaves these individuals more vulnerable to infection. At this point in the pandemic, evidence has made it clear that people who have autoimmune diseases are more likely to experience severe cases of COVID-19 and are more likely to die from the respiratory disease.

The NIH's new trial will build upon relatively new studies that found evidence an extra vaccine dose can help improve antibody response in these individuals. Some immunocompromised people are already authorized to get a 'booster' COVID-19 vaccine dose to compensate for their immunocompromised status.

In the case of this new trial, the NIH says its experts will evaluate an extra vaccine dose with individuals who have one of five autoimmune diseases, including MS, rheumatoid arthritis, pemphigus, systemic sclerosis, and lupus. All of these diseases commonly include treatments with immunosuppressive drugs.