Are IBD patients protected by the COVID-19 vaccines?

The New York Times recently published an article claiming that the COVID-19 vaccines won’t protect individuals with weakened immune systems. Within that article, they stated that, according to the CLARITY IBD Study of patients in the United Kingdom, only 34% of people on infliximab (Remicade) were protected after a single dose of the Pfizer vaccine. We’ve received a lot of questions about this story, and we understand that this statistic may sound scary, so we wanted to explain exactly what this means and why this is not as concerning as it sounds.

The CLARITY IBD Study findings was focused on understanding the antibody levels of patients on infliximab after one vaccine, not two, because the UK was limiting access to the second dose in order to reach more people quickly. According to an explanation from Dr. David Rubin, chair of our National Scientific Advisory Committee, when the patients in the study received their second dose, they did respond and developed antibodies to protect them from developing severe COVID-19. 

To support Dr. Rubin’s explanation, he also mentioned that initial findings from the ICARUS Study – a study of IBD patients who received the COVID-19 vaccine at Mount Sinai in New York – showed that all patients who received two doses of an mRNA vaccine mounted a robust immune response. Additionally, most of these patients were on anti-TNF biologic medications, and there were no safety or immune response issues. These findings do not support concerns about antibody production among IBD patients as the NY Times article has implied.

We’ve also received questions recently about whether patients should have antibody tests following vaccination. There are a variety of antibody tests that are available; however, it is not known whether these tests offer accurate information regarding immunity, nor is it known what type of antibody would be best to measure. There is currently no conclusive evidence that the presence of the antibodies that are found in an antibody test means that a person will be protected from severe COVID or be immune to a future COVID-19 infection.

If you remember anything from this post, we hope it’s that:

  • If you receive your full dose of the vaccine, you have increased protection from severe COVID and/or increased immunity to a future COVID-19 infection.
  • IBD patients should enroll in research studies to help us understand the efficacy and safety of the COVID-19 vaccines in IBD patients. These include PREVENT COVID and CORALE

We encourage you to check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website to see their updated guidance on what you can/cannot do once you are fully vaccinated, such as visiting with others who are fully vaccinated indoors without masks or physical distancing and avoiding medium- and large-sized in-person gatherings.

Click here to learn more about vaccine monitoring.