NATIONAL HARBOR, MD. – The latest updates on COVID-19 vaccination response among patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) who are treated with disease-modifying therapy (DMT) show that, if patients do contract the virus, cases are mild and serious infections are rare.
However, vaccine antibody response remains lower with anti-CD20 therapies.
One of several late-breaking studies on these issues that were presented at the annual meeting of the Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers included more than 100 patients with MS who were treated with a variety of DMTs.
Results showed that the rate of antibody response was just 55% among those treated with anti-CD20 therapies versus 83% for those treated with other DMTs, including sphingosine-1-phosphate receptor modulators (S1Ps).
Consistent with what has been observed in other studies, “vaccine antibody responses were slightly lower in B cell–depleted patients than with other therapies,” senior author Rahul Dave, MD, director of the INOVA MS and Neuroimmunology Center, Inova Neurosciences Institute, the University of Virginia, Fairfax, said in an interview.
The investigators sought to assess detailed vaccine responses in 134 patients with MS. Serum COVID antibody measures were conducted approximately 3 weeks to 4 months after vaccination – and mostly after the initial vaccination.
The antibody response rate was significantly lower with anti-CD20 treatments (55%) than with all other DMTs examined (83%), including S1Ps, immunomodulators, immunosuppressive drugs, interferon B, anti-CD52, and natalizumab (P < .01).
The highest prevalence of antibody response was observed among those taking immunomodulators; responses occurred among 91% of patients taking teriflunomide and among 93% of those taking fumarates.
Among those treated with anti-CD20 therapy, antibody responses correlated with higher baseline immunoglobulin levels (P = .01) and shorter durations of therapy.
“We found that longer total duration of therapy and lower immunoglobulin levels tended to correlate with decreases in immune responses,” said Dr. Dave.
“Interestingly, the timing between vaccination versus administration of [anti-CD20 drug] ocrelizumab did not seem to be impactful with regards to antibody responses,” Dr. Dave noted. He added that this is contrary to some past studies that showed benefits if the vaccination could be completed prior to starting ocrelizumab.
Sixteen participants tested polymerase chain reaction positive for COVID during the previous 12 months. Although most infections were described as mild and self-limited, four of the patients received outpatient monoclonal antibody therapy, and one required hospitalization because of COVID.
“I think it is notable and reassuring that, overall, our patients had mild courses. This is consistent with the vaccines ‘working,’ and is true even in patients on high-efficacy immunosuppressants that partially abrogate antibody responses,” Dr. Dave said.
He added that he reassures patients who need high-efficacy therapies that “they should use them.”
That being said, as in the general population, even vaccinated patients can get COVID. “You can be sick and feel terrible, but in general, hospitalization numbers are way down compared to 2 years ago. We are seeing the same trends in MS patients, including the B cell–depleted patients,” he said.
“To get at the question whether B cell–depleted patients behave exactly the same as the general population, or even [with] other DMTs, we will need large, multicenter, prospective datasets,” said Dr. Dave.