The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is now recommending a second COVID-19 booster shot for individuals older than 50 and those with certain conditions that lead them to be immunocompromised. The American Cancer Society states, “Many expert medical groups recommend that most people with cancer or a history of cancer should get a COVID-19 vaccine.”
People who are living with multiple myeloma are typically considered immunocompromised, which can lead to an increased risk for severe disease and hospitalization with COVID-19. The new public health recommendations come after recent studies showed an immune response to the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines in many immunocompromised people, including individuals with blood cancer.
Health officials at the U.S. Food & Drug Administration and the CDC have authorized and recommended a second booster shot for people 50 and older and for those with immunocompromising conditions. This recommendation affects a similar age group to the one advised to receive the first booster dose. However, there are several details to know before you get this fourth dose:
If you’ve already had your first booster shot, you may be wondering what the research says about whether boosters are effective in people with myeloma. One study of 167 people with multiple myeloma found that although individuals with the condition did not produce a strong antibody response after their initial COVID-19 vaccination doses, a booster shot significantly improved their protection against the virus.
In addition, the International Myeloma Foundation recently began recommending a second booster shot against COVID-19 for most people living with myeloma. If you have any concerns about whether to get the booster or how to time it around your myeloma treatments, talk to your oncologist.
The CDC’s latest recommendations follow promising new results about the effectiveness of the vaccines in immunocompromised people. A recent study from Moffitt Cancer Center included people diagnosed with blood cancers, as well as individuals with solid tumors. Researchers tested levels of antibodies, the proteins the immune system makes to help destroy a target. In this case, the antibodies were to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, made in response to the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
On average, antibodies against the coronavirus were identified after the second vaccine dose in about 90 percent of people in the study. About 85 percent of people with blood cancers showed an antibody response.
People who had the following treatments generally had lower responses to the vaccine
People who had the following treatments showed a stronger response to the vaccine:
While this recent study only included people given the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19, other research has looked at how immunocompromised individuals have responded to the Pfizer vaccine. These vaccines are based on the same technique: using a molecule called messenger RNA (mRNA) to teach cells how to make a protein that will trigger an immune system response and help prevent a SARS-CoV-2 infection.
In one study that included individuals with medical conditions that caused them to be immunocompromised (including myeloma), immune system response was, on average, about 67 percent. However, individuals with myeloma made antibodies after vaccination about 80 percent of the time, according to the study results.
Additional doses of mRNA vaccines may be effective at increasing detectable antibodies in a similar way to the first and second doses. Other research indicates that antibody levels are likely to decrease over time, so getting booster doses at recommended intervals is necessary even in vaccinated people who made antibodies after their initial shots.
Simply making antibodies does not always necessarily translate to complete immunity from COVID-19 infection, but the findings from these studies are a good sign that the mRNA vaccines for COVID-19 can trigger strong responses even from compromised immune systems. It’s evidence that vaccines can protect people at higher risk from severe infections.
According to the CDC, getting vaccinated is still the best way to protect yourself and slow the spread of the virus.
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