People with systemic lupus erythematosus, or SLE, who received a “booster” dose of SARS-CoV-2 vaccine after full vaccination are roughly half as likely to have a subsequent “breakthrough” COVID-19 infection, a new study shows.
The finding, researchers say, should offer reassurance to the more than 200,000 Americans who have SLE, a condition in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own healthy tissues, especially joints and skin. Immune-suppressing drugs, such as steroids, needed to control symptoms of the disease, place them at increased risk of infections, including SARS-CoV-2.
Led by researchers at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, the new study tracked the health of 163 fully vaccinated men and women being treated for SLE at its affiliated hospitals in New York City. The researchers’ goal was to see who became infected with the virus over at least six months, given that more than half were taking at least one immune-suppressing medication for their SLE. All had received some combination of the vaccines manufactured by Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson prior to June 2021, but only 125 had received a third or booster dose of vaccine.
Publishing in the journal The Lancet Rheumatology online July 12, the study showed that at the end of the monitoring period (April 24, 2022), 44 vaccinated SLE patients had had breakthrough infections, with two needing hospitalization (but both surviving their infection).
Among those with breakthrough infections, 28 of 125, or 22%, had received a booster, while 16 of 38, or 42%, had not. Notably, according to investigators, the majority of breakthrough infections (42 of 44) occurred after Dec. 2, 2021, when the city detected its first case of the highly contagious omicron variant.
Another key study finding was among 57 of the study participants who agreed to have their blood antibody levels checked, once after full vaccination and again after receiving their booster.
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