Those with moderately to severely compromised immune systems who received an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna) should now receive an additional dose of the vaccine, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).1
Following weeks of public speculation, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices made the recommendation after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) amended its emergency use authorizations for Pfizer’s and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines to include additional booster doses for certain immunocompromised people.
In a late breaking update to this story, U.S. health officials today announced that all Americans will be able to receive mRNA vaccine booster shots this fall, beginning on September 20th, and that the third dose should be given eight months after the second dose.7 At that time, health care providers, nursing home residents, and seniors will be prioritized, similarly to the first two shots. More information will follow for those who received Johnson & Johnson vaccines in the coming weeks.7
But those who are immunocompromised are eligible for the third shot now.
The CDC is currently recommending an mRNA booster shot for people who have:
- Been receiving active cancer treatment for tumors or cancers of the blood
- Received an organ transplant and are taking medicine to suppress the immune system
- Received a stem cell transplant within the last two years and are taking medicine to suppress the immune system
- Moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency (such as DiGeorge syndrome, or Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome)
- Advanced or untreated HIV infection
- Been taking high-dose corticosteroids (defined below) or other drugs that may suppress your immune response1
Everyone else who has been vaccinated with Pfizer or Moderna vaccines will be eligible starting in late September.
High-dose corticosteroids are defined as ≥20 mg prednisone or equivalent per day, while other immunosuppressive medications listed by the CDC include tumor necrosis factor (TNF) blockers, and other biologic agents that are immunosuppressive or immunomodulatory.2
What does this mean for those with spondyloarthritis? Some reports indicate a lower immune response to the vaccines in individuals with rheumatic disease, especially those taking certain medications such as corticosteroids and TNF blockers. (This data applies to adults only. There is limited to no data available for children.) Those living with spondyloarthritis should speak to their doctors to find out if they are eligible, and should receive, a third dose of an mRNA vaccine.
“The decision whether to receive a booster vaccination should be made in conjunction with your rheumatologist, taking into consideration the medications that you are currently taking,” said rheumatologist Pamela Weiss, MD, MSCE, Chair of SAA’s Medical and Scientific Advisory Board.
If you qualify for a third dose of the vaccine, please call your healthcare provider treating you for the qualifying condition to find out how to receive your shot.
The additional vaccine dose should be of the same type as the first two doses received (so if you received a Pfizer vaccine, you should receive a Pfizer booster shot; the same goes for Moderna). The booster shot should be given at least 28 days after the second dose.1 The Pfizer booster shot is recommended for immunocompromised individuals aged 12 and over, while the Moderna booster shot is recommended for immunocompromised individuals aged 18 and over.
If you are unable to access the same type of vaccine you received initially, it is okay to get the other mRNA vaccine – although this isn’t the CDC’s first recommendation.1
Recommendations have not yet been released for people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
People who are moderately to severely immunocompromised are at greater risk of serious, prolonged illness from COVID-19 infection, the CDC says. Studies suggest that some immunocompromised people gain less protection from the two-dose mRNA vaccines,3 and may benefit from a third dose.
The FDA’s support for the expanded authorizations came from two studies looking at mRNA vaccine response in solid-organ transplant recipients. In a randomized trial of 120 organ transplant recipients, a third dose of the Moderna vaccine two months after the second shot raised the immune response in 55% of patients, compared to 18% in a placebo group. In a second study of 101 transplant recipients in France, the number of patients demonstrating antibodies against COVID-19 jumped 28% one month after receiving a third Pfizer vaccine.4
Recent research has also found that post-vaccine flares were uncommon in individuals with rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases. Among 1,377 individuals who were given either the Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccine, 11% reported a rheumatic flare that required treatment, but none of the flares were severe, according to a study conducted from December 2020 to April 2021 at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.6 The most common diagnosis among the cohort was inflammatory arthritis, and 72% of patients were on a biologic medication. Factors associated with post-vaccine flares included previous COVID-19 diagnosis, having a flare within the six months prior to vaccination, and receiving combination therapy (a biologic plus a disease-modifying antirheumatic drug [DMARD]).6
“While people who are immunocompromised make up about 3% of the U.S. adult population, they are especially vulnerable to COVID-19,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH. “This official CDC recommendation is an important step in ensuring everyone, including those most vulnerable to COVID-19, can get as much protection as possible from vaccination.”5
Please note that the information in this article is accurate as of today, but recommendations may change in the future. We will do our best to keep you updated in a timely manner.
Standard precautions such as wearing masks, social distancing, and washing hands should still be practiced by those who are immunocompromised.
- COVID-19 Vaccines for Moderately to Severely Immunocompromised People | CDC
- CDC Panel Backs Third COVID Shot for the Immunocompromised | MedPage Today
- Science Brief: COVID-19 Vaccines and Vaccination (cdc.gov)
- FDA Authorizes COVID Booster Shots for Certain Populations | MedPage Today
- Media Statement from CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH
- Rheumatic Flares Uncommon After COVID Vax | MedPage Today
- US to Advise Booster Shots for Most Americans 8 Months After Vaccination – The New York Times (nytimes.com)