Study Finds Response to COVID-19 Vaccination Varies Widely in Patients With Multiple Myeloma

Get Permission

Patients with multiple myeloma had a wide variety of responses to COVID-19 vaccines—in some cases, no detectable response at all—pointing to the need for antibody testing and precautions for these patients after vaccination, according to a study published by Van Oekelen et al in Cancer Cell.

Mount Sinai researchers found that patients with multiple myeloma mount variable—and sometimes suboptimal—responses after receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. Almost 16% of these patients developed no detectible antibodies after both vaccine doses. These findings may be relevant to other patients with cancer undergoing treatment, as well as to immunocompromised patients.

“This study underscores the need for routine blood tests on [patients with] multiple myeloma after vaccination to understand their risk and potential need to continue wearing masks and socially distance until the pandemic wanes,” said co-lead author Samir Parekh, MD, Director of Translational Research in Multiple Myeloma at The Tisch Cancer Institute at Mount Sinai and Professor of Medicine (Hematology and Medical Oncology) and Oncological Sciences at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “This also calls for clinical trials to study the use of prophylactic therapies, like monoclonal antibodies, to mitigate COVID-19 risk or to use of different vaccines or booster vaccinations in these patients.”

Photo credit: Getty

COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective in preventing severe infections or death, but patients with multiple myeloma are immunocompromised and often on immunosuppressive therapy, and preliminary reports showed that the vaccines evoked a lower and delayed response in them compared to healthy people. This study was the first to analyze a large group of patients with multiple myeloma after completing both doses of vaccination and to compare their antibody response to a control group of healthy people.

“As we continue to reopen the country, it is important for people with immune system disorders, including multiple myeloma, to work with their doctors and to understand their response to their COVID-19 vaccines due to the varied antibody responses to the vaccines we see in this study,” said co-lead author Ania Wajnberg, MD, Director of Clinical Antibody Testing at The Mount Sinai Hospital.

Antibody Measurement Results

Repeat antibody measurements from before patients’ first vaccine dose until 60 days after the second vaccination showed delayed and suboptimal responses, particularly in patients with multiple myeloma who had not contracted COVID-19 before their vaccinations. Patients on active cancer treatment had significantly lower antibody levels after two vaccine doses than patients who were not on treatment at the time of vaccination.

Researchers analyzed the antibody levels of 320 patients with multiple myeloma—260 of whom received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccination—and found that 15.8% had undetectable antibodies. The patients who had had COVID-19 before vaccination showed immune responses that were 10 times higher than those who had not.

Pointing to the importance of the study, 10 patients with multiple myeloma who received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine developed COVID-19 during the study period. Four needed to be hospitalized with severe symptoms, and one of them died.

The team of Mount Sinai researchers continue to study the response of these patients to COVID-19 vaccines; they believe that it may be possible that patients who mount low to modest antibody responses will lose protection more rapidly than those who mount a high response.

Disclosure: For full disclosures of the study authors, visit

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.