New study on vaccine responses for impaired immune systems

A new UK study by Octave seeks to understand the immune response to COVID-19 vaccinations in patients with certain immunosuppressed conditions, including cancer.

Funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC), researchers from the Universities of Glasgow, Birmingham (sponsors), Oxford, Liverpool, Imperial College London and Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust will contribute to this nationally collaborative study to expand on years of experience understanding the immune system in the context of chronic conditions, in order to establish the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines in these clinically at-risk patient groups.

The roll out of the COVID-19 vaccine is of high priority for people with cancer, inflammatory arthritis, diseases of the kidney or liver or who are having a stem cell transplant, as they may be at higher risk of the more severe complications of COVID-19 infection. Unfortunately, these underlying medical conditions and the associated treatment may weaken the immune system. To date, patients with compromised immune systems were “generally excluded from COVID-19 vaccine studies”, says the study and adds that current evidence shows that “people with these medical conditions may not obtain optimal protection from established vaccines”.

It is now important to confirm that the COVID-19 vaccines meet these protection requirements, so this Octave study will investigate the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines being used in the UK for 2021 in up to 5,000 people within these patient populations. It will use state-of-the-art immune tests on blood samples taken before and/or after COVID-19 vaccination to determine patients’ immune response and therefore the likelihood that vaccines will fully protect vulnerable groups from SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Patient recruitment at sites across the UK have begun and researchers will compare results from the study group against control groups of healthy people who have also been vaccinated against COVID-19, which will provide “invaluable new data to help us answer questions of this kind from our patients and their families,” according to Professor Iain McInnes, Head of the College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences at the University of Glasgow and leader of the Octave study.

Scientists do not yet know how long the COVID-19 vaccine with provide immunity for, meaning there is a possibility of ongoing vaccination against the disease in proceeding years. This might be especially so for people with weakened immune systems and results from the Octave study “will help ensure that those more at risk from infection receive the best protection possible”, according to Professor Fiona Watt, Executive Chair of the MRC. The study is being run by Birmingham University’s Cancer Research UK Clinical Trials Unit (CRCTU).

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