Study: COVID-19 Booster Hikes Cancer Patients’ Antibodies

Most of the patients with no immune response after the two-dose regimen responded well to a third shot.

A third COVID-19 vaccine booster dose helped cancer patients, even those who had no measurable immune response after full vaccination, according to a new study.

The findings, published November 15 in Cancer Cell, also show that a booster dose is extremely beneficial for all cancer patients, and particularly those who have a blood cancer, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine said in a news release.

Investigators at the Montefiore Einstein Cancer Center (MECC), Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health System studied two groups of patients with cancer. The first was composed of 99 people who were fully vaccinated and who were tested after their initial vaccination for the presence of antiviral antibodies against COVID-19, and the second consisted of 88 fully vaccinated patients.

Most participants (70%) received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, while 25% were vaccinated with the Moderna vaccine, and 5% with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

For most patients in the first group with detectable antibodies, their antibody levels declined when testing was repeated four to six months later.

Sixty-four percent of individuals in the second group had detectable antibodies, while the remaining patients (all but one of whom had blood cancer) tested negative for antibodies.

All participants — people with and without antibodies — then received a booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. After four weeks, 79.5% 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,” Albert Einstein College of Medicine said.

“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,” Lauren Shapiro, M.D., co-first author of the paper and a third-year hematology/oncology fellows at Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said in a statement. "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."

“As our care for cancer patients and vaccine guidelines evolve, we believe these findings underscore the continued benefit vaccines give to all our patients." Balazs Halmos, M.D., director of the Multidisciplinary Thoracic Oncology Program at Montefiore Health System and professor of medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

MECC investigators also found that COVID-19 patients with blood cancers had significantly higher mortality rates compared with patients who had solid tumors, according to their paper published in Cancer Discovery last year.