What’s the evidence that immunocompromised patients need a 3rd booster mRNA Covid vaccine shot?

At this time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendation for a booster shot of an mRNA vaccine in patients with moderate to severe immunocompromised state (1,2) is based primarily on the concern for waning immunity following the initial series—including a decline in neutralizing antibodies— in this patient population, and the finding that at least some immunocompromised patients may have a significant improvement in certain laboratory measurements of immunity following their booster shot. 

Although there are no randomized-controlled trials of the efficacy of the 3rd shot in protecting against Covid-19 in immunocompromised patients, the recent surge in the highly transmissible SARS-CoV-2 variants in many parts of the world (including the U.S.)  as well as immunocompromised patient population accounting for nearly one-half of all breakthrough Covid-19 cases requiring hospitalization (1) make it urgent to adopt these recommendations. 

A randomized trial involving 120 solid organ transplant patients (median age 67 y) found higher neutralizing antibody levels and SARS CoV-2 specific T-cell counts after the mRNA-1273 (Moderna) vaccine booster dose compared to placebo (3).

In another study involving 101 solid organ transplant patients, of 59 subjects who were seronegative before the 3rd dose, 44% became seropositive 4 weeks after the 3rd vaccine dose ( BNT162b2-Pfizer vaccine administered 2 months after the second dose). Patients who did not have an antibody response were older, had higher degree of immunosuppression and had a lower estimated glomerular filtration rate than those with antibody response (4).

A “spectacular increase” in anti-spike antibodies with levels close to the general population has also been reported among hemodialysis patients receiving a third dose of Pfizer mRNA vaccine (5). 

Until further data from larger studies become available,  these studies support administration of a 3rd dose booster mRNA vaccine in moderate to severely immunosuppressed individuals.

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that although immunocompromised patients have significantly worse influenza outcome, the data on the impact of immunocompromised status on the outcome of Covid-19 is less clear with published evidence that both supports and refutes this association (6)?  

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  1. CDC. Data and clinical considerations for additional doses in immunocompromised people: ACIP Meeting, July 22, 2021. ACIP Data and Clinical Considerations for Additional Doses in Immunocompromised People (cdc.gov)
  2. CDC. Interim clinical considerations for use of Covid-19 vaccines currently authorized in the United States. August 13, 2021. Interim Clinical Considerations for Use of COVID-19 Vaccines | CDC
  3. Hall VG, Ferreira VH, Ku T, et al. Randomized trial of a third dose of mRNA-1273 vaccine recipients. N Engl J Med 2021, Aug 11. Randomized Trial of a Third Dose of mRNA-1273 Vaccine in Transplant Recipients | NEJM
  4. Kamar N, Abravanel F, Marion O. Three doses of an mRNA Covid-19 vaccine in solid-organ transplant recipient. N Engl J Med 2021, Aug 12.Three Doses of an mRNA Covid-19 Vaccine in Solid-Organ Transplant Recipients | NEJM
  5. Frantzen L, Thibeaut S, Moussi-Frances J, et al. Covid-19 vaccination in haemodialysis patients: Good things come in threes… Neph Dial Transplant, 20 July 2023. COVID-19 Vaccination in Haemodialysis Patients: Good things come in threes… – PubMed (nih.gov)
  6. Parisi C. An opportunity to better understand the impact of coronavirus on immunocompromised patients. J Infect Dis 2021;224:372-3. Opportunity to Better Understand the Impact of Coronaviruses on Immunocompromised Patients | The Journal of Infectious Diseases | Oxford Academic (oup.com)

Disclosures: The listed questions and answers are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of Mercy-St. Louis, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Catalyst, Harvard University, their affiliate healthcare centers, or its contributors. Although every effort has been made to provide accurate information, the author is far from being perfect. The reader is urged to verify the content of the material with other sources as deemed appropriate and exercise clinical judgment in the interpretation and application of the information provided herein. No responsibility for an adverse outcome or guarantees for a favorable clinical result is assumed by the author. Thank you!

What’s the evidence that immunocompromised patients need a 3rd booster mRNA Covid vaccine shot?

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