A prospective study of cellular immune response to booster COVID-19 vaccination in multiple sclerosis patients treated with a broad spectrum of disease-modifying therapies

J Neurol. 2023 Mar 18;1-12. doi: 10.1007/s00415-023-11575-8. Online ahead of print.


Background: Most people with Multiple Sclerosis (pwMS) are subjected to immunomodulatory disease-modifying treatments (DMTs). As a result, immune responses to COVID-19 vaccinations could be compromised. There are few data on cellular immune responses to the use of COVID-19 vaccine boosters in pwMS under a broad spectrum of DMTs.

Methods: In this prospective study, we analysed cellular immune responses to SARS-CoV-2 mRNA booster vaccinations in 159 pwMS with DMT, including: ocrelizumab, rituximab, fingolimod, alemtuzumab, dimethyl fumarate, glatiramer acetate, teriflunomide, natalizumab and cladribine.

Results: DMTs, and particularly fingolimod, interact with cellular responses to COVID-19 vaccination. One booster dose does not increase cellular immunity any more than two doses, except in the cases of natalizumab and cladribine. SARS-CoV-2 infection combined with two doses of vaccine resulted in a greater cellular immune response, but this was not observed after supplementary booster jabs. Ocrelizumab-treated pwMS who had previously received fingolimod did not develop cellular immunity, even after receiving a booster. The time after MS diagnosis and disability status negatively correlated with cellular immunity in ocrelizumab-treated pwMS in a booster dose cohort.

Conclusions: After two doses of SARS-CoV-2 vaccination, a high response yield was achieved, except in patients who had received fingolimod. The effects of fingolimod on cellular immunity persisted for more than 2 years after a change to ocrelizumab (which, in contrast, conserved cellular immunity). Our results confirmed the need to find alternative protective measures for fingolimod-treated people and to consider the possible failure to provide protection against SARS-CoV-2 when switching from fingolimod to ocrelizumab.

Keywords: Booster revaccination; COVID-19 vaccines; Cellular immune response; Immunomodulating drugs; Multiple sclerosis.