In a new study from Michigan Medicine, researchers found that nearly 3% of insured U.S. adults under 65 take medications that weaken their immune systems.
The study is based on data from over 3 million patients with private insurance.
The team focused on patients’ use of immunosuppressive drugs, including chemotherapy medications and steroids such as prednisone.
Their analysis reveals nearly 90,000 people met the study criteria for drug-induced immunosuppression that may elevate the risk for severe COVID-19 symptoms and hospitalization if they became infected.
Two-thirds of them took an oral steroid at least once, and more than 40% of patients took steroids for more than 30 days in a year.
When the team of researchers examined the data, a vaccine against COVID-19 was not yet available outside clinical trials.
The evidence is growing, however, that taking immunosuppressive drugs may reduce the efficacy of the shot.
The team mentions several strategies, including holding medications around the time of vaccination and giving an extra “booster” shot, that scientists are testing to look into this question.
They also express concern over how this group of immunosuppressed patients should proceed following the CDC’s relaxation of masking and distancing guidelines for vaccinated people.
Moving forward, researchers need prospectively look at vaccine response in this vulnerable population.
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The study is published in JAMA Network Open. One author of the study is Beth Wallace, M.D., M.Sc.
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