Is there a way to boost COVID vaccine response in patients with CLL? Dr. Jean Koff explains ongoing progress being made to protect CLL patients from COVID.
Dr. Jean Koff is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Hematology and Oncology at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University. Learn more about Dr. Koff, here.
We received another patient question prior to the program. Has there been any progress in helping CLL patients get a better reaction from COVID vaccines?
Dr. Jean Koff:
That is a great question, and that is one that is near and dear to my heart and my colleagues at – at Emory. You raise a really good point, which is that CLL patients have altered immune systems just by virtue of their CLL. The CLL cells exert their influence on other immune cells and can cause your immune system not to respond to infections or immunizations the way it normally would. That’s without any medication in the mix. Now, when we look at patients who are on medications like the ones we’ve been talking about, the BTK inhibitors, venetoclax (Venclexta), but especially the monoclonal antibodies that react against CD20, we see that those patients really do not have an optimal response to vaccines, especially the COVID vaccine.
Meaning, that patients who receive the COVID vaccine while they’re on that therapy, or even within 12 months of receiving a monoclonal antibody, often don’t mount the same strong immune response as somebody who’s not on those therapies. So, luckily, we – we don’t have to just depend on the vaccines. I still recommend that my patients get vaccinated, because it is safe and it might impart a little bit of efficacy, and it’s certainly more effective than not getting the vaccine. But we also have other approaches to increasing your protection against COVID, including the – the injection called tixagevimab co-packaged with cilgavimab (Evusheld), which can help protect patients specifically whose immune systems are not completely normal and are not expected to mount a strong response to COVID vaccines.
So, that is definitely a discussion to have with your doctor about how your medications impact your protection from COVID, from vaccines, and whether there are other medications that might be used to help increase your protection.
That’s great advice.