FRONT PAGE: COVID-19 Booster Shot Helps Vast Majority Of Cancer Patients

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Newswise — November 16, 2021 (BRONX, NY)–Most cancer patients who had no measurable immune response after being fully vaccinated for COVID-19 were helped by a third vaccine dose, according to a new study by investigators at the Montefiore Einstein Cancer Center (MECC). The findings, published online yesterday in Cancer Cell, also show that a “booster” shot is extremely beneficial for all cancer patients, who face a heightened risk of severe disease and dying from COVID-19, and particularly in people who have a blood cancer.

“The speed of recommendations and treatments for COVID-19 has been incredible, but many questions have remained regarding the safety and necessity of booster shots,” said Lauren Shapiro, M.D., co-first author of the paper with Astha Thakkar, M.B.B.S, both third-year hematology/oncology fellows at Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “Our research now gives data-driven answers about when vaccine protection from COVID-19 wanes for immunocompromised individuals and offers clear guidance about the necessity of vaccination for people with cancer.”

The study involved two groups of patients with cancer. The first was composed of 99 people who were fully vaccinated against COVID-19. They were tested after their initial vaccination for the presence of antiviral antibodies in their blood–the sign of an active immune response that would reduce their risk of severe disease and death from COVID-19. Most patients who had detectable antibodies experienced a decline in their antibody levels when the testing was repeated four to six months later.

The people in the second group, made up of 88 fully vaccinated patients with cancer, were also tested for the presence of antiviral antibodies in their blood. Sixty-four per cent of the patients had detectable antibodies. All other patients, except one, were negative. All participants–people with and without antibodies–then received a booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Four weeks later, when their blood was again tested, 79.5% (70 out of 88 people) had antibody levels that were higher than before they received their booster shot. Most notably, 56% of cancer patients who previously had no detectable antibodies after standard vaccination now had them after receiving their booster shot. Our study clearly shows how the booster shot can make a difference for people with compromised immune systems such as those with cancer.” said Balazs Hamos, M.D. , director of the Multidisciplinary Thoracic Oncology Program at Montefiore Health System, professor of medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and MECC associate director of clinical science. “As we improve our care for patients with cancer and the vaccine guidelines, these findings reinforce the benefits vaccines provide to all of our patients,” Dr. Halmos said. Amit verma, M.B.B.S., is also an associate director of clinical science at MECC. , is the associate director for translational studies at MECC. He also serves as chief of the division hematooncology at Montefiore.

This study is the fourth from MECC investigators focusing on cancer patients and COVID-19. In a paper published in May 2020 in Cancer Discovery, they found that COVID-19 patients with blood cancers had significantly higher mortality rates compared with patients who had solid tumors. In a follow-up study published in March 2021 in Nature Cancer, they reported their findings on patients’ response to their initial COVID-19 infection. In June 2021, this team reported on cancer patients’ initial responses to COVID-19 vaccination in Cancer Cell.

In this new study, participants who received the booster had an average age of 69 and were almost evenly split between men and women. Sixty-five percent had blood cancer and 35% had a solid tumor. Most participants, 70%, were vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, 25% with Moderna, and 5% with Johnson & Johnson. Approximately 36% of patients were Caucasian, 33% African American, 22% Hispanic, 8% Asian, and 1% belong to other ethnic groups.

Additional Montefiore-Einstein authors are: Sean Campbell, Ph.D., Stefanie Forest, M.D., Ph.D., Kith Pradhan, Ph.D., Jesus Gonzalez-Lugo, M.D., Ryann Quinn M.D., Tushar D. Bhagat, Ph.D., Gaurav S. Choudhary, Ph.D., Margaret McCort, M.D., M.S., R. Alejandro Sica, M.D., Mendel Goldfinger M.D., Swati Goel, M.D., Jesus Anampa, M.D., M.S., David Levitz M.D., Ariel Fromowitz M.D., Akash Pradip Shah, M.S., Charlotte Sklow, Gregory Alfieri, Andrew Racine, M.D., and Lucia Wolgast M.D. Lee Greenberger, Ph.D. was also an author.

The paper is titled “Efficacy of booster doses in augmenting waning immune responses to COVID-19 vaccine in patients with cancer.” This study was supported in part by the Montefiore Einstein Cancer Center (P30 CA013330), NCORP grant 2UG1CA189859-06), Jane and Myles Dempsey Family Fund, and The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

About Albert Einstein College of Medicine

Albert Einstein College of Medicine is one of the nation’s premier centers for research, medical education and clinical investigation. During the 2020-21 academic year, Einstein is home to 721 M.D. students, 178 Ph.D. students, 109 students in the combined M.D./Ph.D. program, and 265 postdoctoral research fellows. The College of Medicine has more than 1,900 full-time faculty members located on the main campus and at its clinical affiliates. In 2020, Einstein received more than $197 million in awards from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This includes the funding of major research centers at Einstein in aging, intellectual development disorders, diabetes, cancer, clinical and translational research, liver disease, and AIDS. The College of Medicine also focuses its efforts in neuroscience, developmental brain research, cardiac disease, as well as initiatives to reduce and eliminate ethnic or racial disparities in health. Its partnership with Montefiore, the University Hospital and academic medical center for Einstein, advances clinical and translational research to accelerate the pace at which new discoveries become the treatments and therapies that benefit patients. Through Montefiore, Einstein manages one of the most comprehensive residency and fellowship programs in the medical and dental fields in the United States. This affiliation network includes hospitals and medical centers on Long Island, Brooklyn, and the Bronx. For more information, please visit einsteinmed.org, read our blog, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and view us on YouTube.

About Montefiore Health System
Montefiore Health System is one of New York’s premier academic health systems and is a recognized leader in providing exceptional quality and personalized, accountable care to approximately three million people in communities across the Bronx, Westchester and the Hudson Valley. It is comprised of 10 hospitals, including the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, Burke Rehabilitation Hospital and more than 200 outpatient ambulatory care sites. Its medical school, Albert Einstein College of Medicine has a high level of clinical and translational research that directly informs patient care. This helps improve outcomes. Montefiore provides comprehensive, coordinated care for patients and their families through its Montefiore Einstein Centers of Excellence. For more information, please visit www.montefiore.org. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram and LinkedIn, or view us on Facebook and YouTube.

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