Vaccination against common pathogens, such as influenza, is recommended for patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) to decrease infections and improve health. However, most reports describing the vaccination response are limited to evaluations of SLE patients with quiescent disease. This study focuses on understanding the clinical, serologic, therapeutic, and demographic factors that influence the response to influenza vaccination in SLE patients with a broad range of disease activity.
Blood specimens and information on disease activity were collected from 72 patients with SLE, at baseline and at 2, 6, and 12 weeks after influenza vaccination. Influenza-specific antibody responses were assessed by determining the total serum antibody concentration (Bmax), relative affinity (Ka), and level of hemagglutination inhibition in the plasma. Using a cumulative score, the patients were evenly divided into groups of high or low vaccine responders. Autoantibody levels were evaluated at each time point using immunofluorescence tests and standard enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays.
Compared to high responders, low responders to the vaccine were more likely to have hematologic criteria (P = 0.009), to have more American College of Rheumatology classification criteria for SLE (P = 0.05), and to be receiving concurrent prednisone treatment (P = 0.04). Interestingly, European American patients were more likely to be low responders than were African American patients (P = 0.03). Following vaccination, low responders were more likely to experience disease flares (P = 0.01) and to have increased titers of antinuclear antibodies (P = 0.04). Serum interferon-α activity at baseline was significantly higher in patients in whom a flare occurred after vaccination compared to a matched group of patients who did not experience a disease flare (P = 0.04).
Ancestral background, prednisone treatment, hematologic criteria, and evidence of increased likelihood of disease flares were associated with low antibody responses to influenza vaccination in SLE patients.