BACKGROUND: Factors affecting response to SARS-CoV-2 mRNA vaccine in allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (allo-HCT) recipients remain to be elucidated.
METHODS: Forty allo-HCT recipients were included in a study of immunization with BNT162b2 mRNA vaccine at days 0 and 21. Binding antibodies (Ab) to SARS-CoV-2 receptor binding domain (RBD) were assessed at days 0, 21, 28, and 49 while neutralizing Ab against SARS-CoV-2 wild type (NT50) were assessed at days 0 and 49. Results observed in allo-HCT patients were compared to those obtained in 40 healthy adults naive of SARS-CoV-2 infection. Flow cytometry analysis of peripheral blood cells was performed before vaccination to identify potential predictors of Ab responses.
RESULTS: Three patients had detectable anti-RBD Ab before vaccination. Among the 37 SARS-CoV-2 naive patients, 20 (54%) and 32 (86%) patients had detectable anti-RBD Ab 21 days and 49 days postvaccination. Comparing anti-RBD Ab levels in allo-HCT recipients and healthy adults, we observed significantly lower anti-RBD Ab levels in allo-HCT recipients at days 21, 28 and 49. Further, 49% of allo-HCT patients versus 88% of healthy adults had detectable NT50 Ab at day 49 while allo-HCT recipients had significantly lower NT50 Ab titers than healthy adults (P = 0.0004). Ongoing moderate/severe chronic GVHD (P < 0.01) as well as rituximab administration in the year prior to vaccination (P < 0.05) correlated with low anti-RBD and NT50 Ab titers at 49 days after the first vaccination in multivariate analyses. Compared to healthy adults, allo-HCT patients without chronic GVHD or rituximab therapy had comparable anti-RBD Ab levels and NT50 Ab titers at day 49. Flow cytometry analyses before vaccination indicated that Ab responses in allo-HCT patients were strongly correlated with the number of memory B cells and of naive CD4 T cells (r > 0.5, P < 0.01) and more weakly with the number of follicular helper T cells (r = 0.4, P = 0.01).
CONCLUSIONS: Chronic GVHD and rituximab administration in allo-HCT recipients are associated with reduced Ab responses to BNT162b2 vaccination. Immunological markers could help identify allo-HCT patients at risk of poor Ab response to mRNA vaccination.
TRIAL REGISTRATION: The study was registered at clinicaltrialsregister.eu on 11 March 2021 (EudractCT # 2021-000673-83).