Efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines in patients taking immunosuppressants

Chen Shen, Malcolm Risk, Elena Schiopu, Salim S. Hayek, Tiankai Xie, Lynn Holevinski, Cem Akin, Gary Freed, Lili Zhao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Objectives We intended to assess the effectiveness of all three US Food and Drug Administration approved COVID-19 vaccines at preventing SARS-CoV-2 infection and COVID-19 hospitalisation in a large cohort of individuals on immunosuppressants for a diverse range of conditions. Methods We studied the effectiveness of BNT162b2 (Pfizer–BioNTech), mRNA-1273 (Moderna) and Ad26. COV2.S (Johnson & Johnson–Janssen) vaccines among individuals who take immunosuppressants (including disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs and glucocorticoids) by comparing vaccinated (n=97688) and unvaccinated (n=42094) individuals in the Michigan Medicine healthcare system from 1 January to 7 December 2021, using Cox proportional hazards modelling with time-varying covariates. Results Among vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, taking immunosuppressants increased the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection (adjusted HR (aHR)=2.17, 95% CI 1.69 to 2.79 for fully vaccinated and aHR=1.40, 95% CI 1.07 to 1.83 for unvaccinated). Among individuals taking immunosuppressants, we found: (1) vaccination reduced the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection (aHR=0.55, 95% CI 0.39 to 0.78); (2) the BNT162b2 and mRNA-1273 vaccines were highly effective at reducing the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection (n=2046, aHR=0.59, 95% CI 0.38 to 0.91 for BNT162b2; n=2064, aHR=0.52, 95% CI 0.33 to 0.82 for mRNA-1273); (3) with a smaller sample size (n=173), Ad26.COV2.S vaccine protection did not reach statistical significance (aHR=0.34, 95% CI 0.09 to 1.30, p=0.17); and (4) receiving a booster dose reduced the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection (aHR=0.42, 95% CI 0.24 to 0.76). Conclusions The mRNA-1273 and BNT162b2 vaccines are effective in individuals who take immunosuppressants. However, individuals who are vaccinated but on immunosuppressants are still at higher risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection and COVID-19 hospitalisation than the broader vaccinated population. Booster doses are effective and crucially important for individuals on immunosuppressants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)875-880
Number of pages6
JournalAnnals of the Rheumatic Diseases
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2022
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Rheumatology
  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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