COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Getting a booster shot against COVID-19 will help give increased, broad protection against the omicron variant for people with cancer, new data shows.

Researchers at Ohio State’s College of Veterinary Medicine and James Cancer Hospital report that the two-shot mRNA vaccination regimen against COVID-19 is “woefully inadequate” to provide durable protection in immunocompromised patients.

They urge cancer patients to get booster shots as soon as they are eligible, according to a news release from The James.

“This adds further evidence of the urgent importance of COVID vaccination in immune-compromised patient populations,” said Dr. Peter Shields, deputy director of The James and professor at the College of Medicine.

Recently published studies have shown that a booster shot in healthy individuals provides stronger protection against COVID-19 and the omicron variant. But limited data exists on how booster shots affect immunocompromised groups­, especially patients with cancer who are undergoing therapy.

In the study, researchers collected samples from 50 patients with solid tumors who had completed two-dose vaccination (23 patients) or three-dose vaccination (27 patients). Samples were collected as part of a study looking at how COVID-19 impacts those with cancer.

The James team collaborated with Dr. Shan-Lu Liu‘s veterinary medicine laboratory team to measure the so-called “neutralizing antibody response” ­– or how well the body’s natural immune system is triggered to respond to, recognize and fight off COVID-19 once vaccinated.  

“Although our sample size was small, the results clearly show that a solid cancer diagnosis does not negatively impact adaptive immune response to booster-mediated protection against SARS-CoV-2 variants, including omicron,” said Liu, who co-directs the viruses and emerging pathogens program at Ohio State’s Infectious Diseases Institute.

“While two-dose mRNA vaccination in cancer patients resulted in about 21-fold reduced neutralizing antibody titer against the omicron variant compared to the parental virus, suggestive of essentially no protection, booster vaccination in cancer patients reduced only by 5-fold, a level that is comparable to that in healthy individuals.” Liu said. “This indicates that not only does the booster vaccine increase antibody levels in patients with cancer – it also broadens the antibody response against coronavirus variants, including omicron.”