People with lupus benefit from a COVID-19 booster shot after full vaccination, with a new study showing they are half as likely to experience a COVID infection afterward.
“Our study results offer people living with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) clinical confirmation that vaccines are highly effective at guarding against severe COVID-19, despite their increased risk of catching the disease,” said study co-author and rheumatologist Dr. Amit Saxena. He’s an assistant professor and lupus specialist at NYU Langone and NYU Grossman School of Medicine in New York City.
“COVID-19 vaccine boosters, or third shots, offered an added, doubled layer of protection from breakthrough infection. Even in cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection, cases were overwhelmingly mild among SLE patients who were fully vaccinated,” Saxena said in an NYU Langone news release.
Lupus causes the body’s immune system to attack itself, including healthy tissues but especially joints and skin. It affects roughly 200,000 Americans. Treatment includes taking immune-suppressing drugs like steroids, which control symptoms but put patients at increased risk of contracting viruses like COVID. In 2020, NYU Langone found that lupus patients were being hospitalized at double the rate of patients without the condition.
The new study surveyed 163 fully vaccinated men and women undergoing treatment for lupus in New York City. Only 125 had gotten a booster shot (third dose) of the vaccine. All were followed for reports of infection for at least six months.
Ultimately, 44 vaccinated lupus patients had “breakthrough” infections and two were hospitalized. Among those with COVID infections, 22% had received a booster, while 42% had not. Forty-two of those breakthrough infections occurred after the highly transmissible Omicron variant emerged in the city.
By checking the participants’ blood antibody levels before and after receiving the booster shot, researchers found that even though they were immunosuppressed, the lupus patients had an immediate rise in protective antibody levels. Previously, studies had found that these antibody levels were lower among initially vaccinated lupus patients, prompting fears about waning immunity over time.
The findings were published online July 12 in the journal The Lancet Rheumatology.
Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more on understanding lupus.
SOURCE: NYU Langone, news release, July 12, 2022
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