Humoral and cellular immune responses in persons with rheumatoid arthritis after a third dose of mRNA COVID-19 vaccine

Contributing Author:

Semin Arthritis Rheum. 2023 Feb 10;59:152177. doi: 10.1016/j.semarthrit.2023.152177. Online ahead of print.


OBJECTIVE: Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) that treat rheumatoid arthritis (RA) may reduce immune responses to COVID-19 vaccination. We compared humoral and cell-mediated immunity before and after a 3rd dose of mRNA COVID vaccine in RA subjects.

METHODS: RA patients that received 2 doses of mRNA vaccine enrolled in an observational study in 2021 before receiving a 3rd dose. Subjects self-reported holding or continuing DMARDs. Blood samples were collected pre- and 4 weeks after the 3rd dose. 50 healthy controls provided blood samples. Humoral response was measured with in-house ELISA assays for anti-Spike IgG (anti-S) and anti-receptor binding domain IgG (anti-RBD). T cell activation was measured after stimulation with SARS-CoV-2 peptide. Spearman’s correlations assessed the relationship between anti-S, anti-RBD, and frequencies of activated T cells.

RESULTS: Among 60 subjects, mean age was 63 years and 88% were female. 57% of subjects held at least 1 DMARD around the 3rd dose. 43% (anti-S) and 62% (anti-RBD) had a normal humoral response at week 4, defined as ELISA within 1 standard deviation of the healthy control mean. No differences in antibody levels were observed based on holding DMARDs. Median frequency of activated CD4 T cells was significantly greater post- vs. pre-3rd dose. Changes in antibody levels did not correlate with change in frequency of activated CD4 T cells.

CONCLUSION: Virus-specific IgG levels significantly increased in RA subjects using DMARDs after completing the primary vaccine series, though fewer than two-thirds achieved a humoral response like healthy controls. Humoral and cellular changes were not correlated.

PMID:36796211 DOI:10.1016/j.semarthrit.2023.152177