Individuals Taking Immunosuppressive Drugs Do Not Have Higher Risk of Severe COVID-19

The results of a study show the chance of death for those with cancer taking rituximab was more than double that of medically similar people.

Individuals who take medication that suppress the immune system do not have a higher overall risk of dying from COVID-19 or being put on a ventilator than non-immunosuppressed hospitalized individuals with COVID-19, results of a study by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health show.

“In general, people taking immunosuppressive medications may be reassured that they can safely continue to do so during this pandemic,” Kayte Andersen, MSc, a doctoral candidate in the department of epidemiology at the Bloomberg school, said in a statement.

Investigators examined 303 drugs and found that just 1, rituximab, was associated with a substantially increased risk of death compared with medically similar hospitalized individuals with COVID-19.

The study results show the risk of death for individuals with cancer taking rituximab was more than double that of medically similar individuals, while the risk for individuals with rheumatological conditions taking rituximab was nearly three-quarters higher than medically similar individuals.

The analysis included 153 individuals with cancer taking rituximab and 100 individuals with rheumatological conditions taking rituximab.

“Given the finding, patients taking rituximab should discuss their options with their doctor,” Andersen said.

“At a minimum, people who take rituximab should continue to protect themselves from developing COVID-19,” she said. “It also makes it all the more important that people around those taking rituximab get vaccinated.”

In a preliminary study this year, there were also no significant associations between immunosuppressive drugs and ventilators or mortality risk in more than 2000 individuals with COVID-19 from the Johns Hopkins Medicine network.

Investigators analyzed electronic health record of individuals hospitalized with COVID-19 from January 2020 to June 2021, including 222,575 individuals, 16,494 of whom had been on immunosuppressive medication prior to hospitalization.

There were 17 medication classes in the study, but none were associated with significantly increased risk of being put on a ventilator.

The findings were posted in The Lancet Rheumatology.

Reference

Outcomes for hospitalized COVID-19 patients taking immunosuppressive medications similar to non-immunosuppressed patients. EurekAlert. News release. November 16, 2021. Accessed November 17, 2021. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/935179