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Latest ACR COVID Vax Guide Addresses Supplemental, Booster Doses

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As rheumatologists contend with vaccine hesitancy among certain subsets of patients, the American College of Rheumatology has released updated clinical guidelines on COVID-19 vaccination for patients with rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases (RMDs), including new recommendations on supplemental and booster doses.

The revised guidance from this fifth version of the ACR guidelines includes strongly recommending that all RMD patients receive a booster after their primary vaccine series, regardless of whether they have been naturally infected with COVID-19. In addition, they strongly recommend third supplemental doses for patients with autoimmune inflammatory rheumatic diseases (AIIRDs) who likely mounted an inadequate vaccine response, which would then be followed by a fourth booster dose as advised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for immunocompromised individuals.

Other recommendations include pre-exposure prophylaxis monoclonal antibody treatment for high-risk AIIRD patients, defined as those with moderate to severely compromised immune systems who may not mount an adequate immune response to COVID-19 vaccination, when it is available and authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration, as well as monoclonal antibody therapy for postexposure prophylaxis of asymptomatic, recently exposed high-risk AIIRD patients or as treatment for newly symptomatic, high-risk AIIRD patients. The ACR guidance notes that, currently, neither the monoclonal antibodies bamlanivimab and etesevimab (administered together) nor casirivimab and imdevimab (REGEN-COV), are licensed or available under an emergency use authorization given their lack of activity against the Omicron variant, the dominant strain of SARS-CoV-2 circulating in the United States.

Finally, the guidance clarified that the timing of intravenous immunoglobulin doses does not need to be modified around the administration of COVID vaccine doses, based on moderate consensus among task force members.

Vaccine Hesitancy in Community Rheumatology Practices

The revised guidelines were released just as Arthritis & Rheumatology published a new study that assessed vaccine hesitancy among rheumatology patients on immunomodulatory therapies. A three-item electronic survey was conducted at 101 offices within a community practice–based rheumatology research network and ultimately collected responses from 58,529 patients, 20,987 of whom had an AIIRD and were receiving targeted therapies like biologics or Janus kinase inhibitors.

Of the total respondents, 77% (n = 43,675) had been vaccinated, 16.9% were not vaccinated and did not plan to be, and 6.1% were not vaccinated but planned to be. However, AIIRD patients were 16% less likely to be vaccinated, compared with the other patients, such as those with osteoarthritis or osteoporosis who were not receiving disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (76.9% vs. 87%; odds ratio, 0.84; 95% confidence interval, 0.77-0.92; P < .001). Multivariable analysis also found that older patients (OR, 1.49 per 10 years) and Asians (OR, 2.42; 95% CI, 1.77-3.33) were more likely to be vaccinated.

Dr Jeffrey Curtis

“Rheumatologists need to be asking their patients more than just: ‘Are you vaccinated?’ ” Jeffrey Curtis, MD, MPH, head of the ACR COVID-19 vaccine task force and a coauthor of the vaccine hesitancy study, said in an interview. “A year ago, that was a fine approach, but now they need to be asking whether you’ve been vaccinated, and with what, and how many times, and how recently. There are a whole lot of subtleties there; ‘vaccinated: yes or no’ is just the tip of the iceberg.”

His research into the vaccine hesitant includes recent anecdotal data from thousands of patients treated in local rheumatology community practices, many of whom cited long-term safety data and potential side effects as reasons why they were unwilling to get vaccinated. But despite their on-paper responses, he cautioned rheumatologists to think critically when determining which patients may truly be open to vaccination.

“If you’re designing strategies to affect vaccine hesitancy, you may be wasting your time with some people,” said Curtis, professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “A critical need is to figure out who are the patients who may be amendable to more information or an intervention or a little bit more time and care, and who are the people where you know, this is a lost cause: You don’t get a flu shot, you haven’t been vaccinated for shingles, [and] you’re not going to get this one either.

“In terms of a research agenda, how do we develop efficient, simple, short screening tools?” he added. “Something with a few helpful questions, on a patient portal or an iPad, that will do a good job identifying your patients at risk who haven’t had vaccination but that you might be able to spend time with, intervene, and actually change their mind. If you spend gobs of time with everyone, you’ll help some people, but clinicians don’t have an infinite amount of time.”

One of the authors of the vaccine hesitancy study acknowledged being employed by the rheumatology research network that hosted the survey. Several others, including Curtis, reported receiving grants and consulting fees from various pharmaceutical companies.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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