JHU examines if COVID patients on immunosuppressive medications face higher risk of death

Posted at 3:28 PM, Nov 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-16 15:33:16-05

BALTIMORE — A recent Johns Hopkins University study examines the difference how hospitalized COVID-19 patients fare when taking immunosuppressive medications.

Researchers found that outcomes aren't much different when comparing those on such medications and others who aren't.

The study was conducted from January 2020 to June 2021 and sampled 222,575 individuals — 16,494 of which were on immunosuppressive medications prior to being hospitalized.

“In general, people taking immunosuppressive medications may be reassured that they can safely continue to do so during this pandemic,” says study lead author Kayte Andersen, MSc, a doctoral candidate in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Epidemiology.

Immunosuppressive drugs are normally taken for organ transplants, autoimmune diseases, and cancers. From the outset of the pandemic, individuals on those medications were viewed as being at higher risk of death.

But according to this study, that may not be the case.

Of the 303 immunosuppressive drugs examined in the study, researchers found just one, rituximab, that had a substantially increased risk of death.

Rituximab is used for serious medical conditions like cancer or an autoimmune disorder that has not responded to other treatments.

The analysis included 253 patients taking rituximab, including 153 with cancer. Results showed the risk of death for the cancer patients was more than double the others.

“Given the finding, patients taking rituximab should discuss their options with their doctor,” says Andersen. “At a minimum, people who take rituximab should continue to protect themselves from developing COVID-19. It also makes it all the more important that people around those taking rituximab get vaccinated.”