The VAXICOV Study, Autoimmune Disease and Vaccination Concerns

February 25, 2021

The results of the international VAccinations against COVid-19 (VAXICOV) study was published this week, revealing patient concerns and expectations around receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

Patients with systemic autoimmune or inflammatory rheumatic diseases were asked to participate in the online survey across 56 countries. Health care workers were also included as a control group.

The most commonly documented autoimmune conditions were systemic lupus erythematosus, spondyloarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. The median score for patients who reported “being afraid to get infected” with COVID-19 was 8, and afraid to “develop severe COVID-19” was 9 (1). That being said, only 54.2% of patients with systemic autoimmune or rheumatic disease were willing to get vaccinated against COVID-19 prior to seeing their specialist. 32.2% of patients were uncertain and 13% stated they were unwilling.

67.5% of patients were recommended by their specialist to get vaccinated – this is confirmation that the medical professional community at large is in favor of vaccinations for otherwise at-risk patients. Willingness to get vaccinated jumped to 67.5% post recommendation from their specialist. Uncertainty decreased to 28.4%, and unwillingness to 8.8%.

Additionally, the VAXICOV study confirms that patients with systemic autoimmune and inflammatory rheumatic diseases are generally willing to get vaccinated against COVID-19. “Willingness” to get a COVID-19 vaccine was associated with fear of getting a COVID-19 infection, not with fear around comorbidities or immunocompromised status. “These results show that a significant proportion of patients with systemic autoimmune or inflammatory rheumatic diseases who are at risk of severe COVID-19 do not perceive themselves as such, and highlight the importance of increasing patient education in this context” (1). Main concerns included a lack of context around COVID-19 vaccine data and testing, especially in regards to the new use of mRNA vaccines, as well as the risk of flare-ups and side effects.

Given the broad span of participants from across the globe, it is reasonable to consider these answers representative of the general population living with autoimmune and rheumatic diseases.