Efficacy of COVID-19 Booster Vaccines in Patients with Hematologic Malignancies: Experiences in a Real-World Scenario

Carolin Krekeler*, Lea Reitnauer, Ulrike Bacher, Cyrus Khandanpour, Leander Steger, Göran Ramin Boeckel, Justine Klosner, Phil Robin Tepasse, Marcel Kemper, Marc Tim Hennies, Rolf Mesters, Matthias Stelljes, Norbert Schmitz, Andrea Kerkhoff, Christoph Schliemann, Jan Henrik Mikesch, Nicole Schmidt, Georg Lenz, Annalen Bleckmann, Evgenii Shumilov

*Corresponding author for this work
5 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Two-dose COVID-19 vaccination often results in poor humoral response rates in patients with hematologic malignancies (HMs); yet responses to COVID-19 booster vaccines and the risk of COVID-19 infection post-booster are mostly uncertain. Methods: We included 200 outpatients with HMs and predominantly lymphoid neoplasms (96%, 191/200) in our academic center and reported on the humoral responses, which were assessed by measurement of anti-spike IgG antibodies in peripheral blood as early as 14 days after mRNA-based prime-boost vaccination, as well as factors hampering booster efficacy. Previous basic (double) immunization was applied according to the local recommendations with mRNA- and/or vector-based vaccines. We also report on post-booster COVID-19 breakthrough infections that emerged in the Omicron era and the prophylaxis strategies that were applied to poor and non-responders to booster vaccines. Results: A total of 55% (110/200) of the patients achieved seroconversion (i.e., anti-spike protein IgG antibody titer > 100 AU/mL assessed in median 48 days after prime-boost vaccination) after prime-boost vaccination. Multivariable analyses revealed age, lymphocytopenia, ongoing treatment and prior anti-CD20 B-cell depletion to be independent predictors for booster failure. With each month between anti-CD20-mediated B-cell depletion and booster vaccination, the probability of seroconversion increased by approximately 4% (p < 0.001) and serum–antibody titer (S-AbT) levels increased by 90 AU/mL (p = 0.011). Notably, obinutuzumab treatment was associated with an 85% lower probability for seroconversion after prime-boost vaccination compared to rituximab (p = 0.002). Of poor or non-responders to prime-boost vaccination, 41% (47/114) underwent a second booster and 73% (83/114) underwent passive immunization. COVID-19 breakthrough infections were observed in 15% (29/200) of patients after prime-boost vaccination with predominantly mild courses (93%). Next to seroconversion, passive immunization was associated with a significantly lower risk of COVID-19 breakthrough infections after booster, even in vaccine non-responders (all p < 0.05). In a small proportion of analyzed patients with myeloid neoplasms (9/200), the seroconversion rate was higher compared to those with lymphoid ones (78% vs. 54%, accordingly), while the incidence rate of COVID-19 breakthrough infections was similar (22% vs. 14%, respectively). Following the low frequency of myeloid neoplasms in this study, the results may not be automatically applied to a larger cohort. Conclusions: Patients with HMs are at a high risk of COVID-19 booster vaccine failure; yet COVID-19 breakthrough infections after prime-boost vaccination are predominantly mild. Booster failure can likely be overcome by passive immunization, thereby providing immune protection against COVID-19 and attenuating the severity of COVID-19 courses. Further sophistication of clinical algorithms for preventing post-vaccination COVID-19 breakthrough infections is urgently needed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number5512
Issue number22
Publication statusPublished - 11.2022

Research Areas and Centers

  • Research Area: Luebeck Integrated Oncology Network (LION)
  • Centers: University Cancer Center Schleswig-Holstein (UCCSH)

DFG Research Classification Scheme

  • 205-14 Haematology, Oncology
  • 204-05 Immunology

Coronavirus related work

  • Research on SARS-CoV-2 / COVID-19

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