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26 April 2021: Editorial  

Editorial: SARS-CoV-2 mRNA Vaccines and the Possible Mechanism of Vaccine-Induced Immune Thrombotic Thrombocytopenia (VITT)

Dinah V. Parums1*

DOI: 10.12659/MSM.932899

Med Sci Monit 2021; 27:e932899

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Abstract

ABSTRACT: During 2020 and 2021, the global pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) due to severe acute respi- ratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has resulted in high death rates and acute and chronic morbidity in all countries. The rapid development of new mRNA vaccines to SARS-CoV-2 brings hope that the spread of this virus can be controlled. The ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine developed by a collaboration between the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca showed efficacy in clinical trials, with a good safety profile. However, there have been recent reports of the rare development of thrombotic events in young women following vaccination with ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, particularly of the rare condition of cavernous sinus thrombosis. Studies have begun to in- vestigate whether antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 spike cross-react with platelet factor 4 (PF4/CXLC4) and mim- ic autoimmune heparin-induced thrombocytopenia. This Medical Science Monitor Editorial aims to briefly update the current status of studies on a possible rare complication of using new mRNA vaccines to prevent COVID-19.

Keywords: Editorial, Thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura, acquired, Adverse Drug Reaction Reporting Systems, platelet factor 4, vaccin, COVID-19, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, COVID-19, COVID-19 Vaccines, Clinical Trials as Topic, Purpura, Thrombocytopenic, Idiopathic, RNA, Messenger, SARS-CoV-2

During 2020 and 2021, the global pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) from infection with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has resulted in high death rates and acute and chronic morbidity in all countries [1]. In May 2020, a review article in this journal described the rationale for the development of mRNA-based SARS-CoV-2 vaccines and summarized the progress in vaccine development at that time [2]. From January 2021, SARS-CoV-2 vaccines gained emergency use authorization (EUA) in Europe, North America, South America, Australasia, and Asia, with the elderly and clinically vulnerable being given priority for vaccination.

Following clinical trial safety and efficacy data, the first two approved mRNA vaccines included the BNT162b2 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine, ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 (AZD1222) [3,4]. ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 is a recombinant adenoviral vector that encodes the spike protein antigen of SARS-CoV-2 [3,4]. However, during 2021, sporadic cases were reported of rare thrombotic events in young women who were recently vaccinated with ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, which included the rare condition of cavernous sinus thrombosis. In April 2021, Schultz et al. reported five patients who presented with venous thrombosis and thrombocytopenia between 7 days and 10 days after receiving the first dose of the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 adenoviral vector vaccine [5]. The patients were healthcare workers who were between 32 and 54 years of age [6]. The patients were diagnosed with high levels of antibodies to platelet factor 4-polyanion complexes, but none had previous exposure to heparin [5]. Because the five cases occurred in a group more than 130,000 vaccinated individuals, this finding was reported as a rare vaccine-related variant of spontaneous heparin-induced thrombocytopenia termed vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT) [5].

Recently, VITT has been identified in at least six patients who were given the AD26.COV2.S vaccine (Johnson & Johnson/Janssen), and on April 13, 2021, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended pausing vaccination with AD26.COV2.S due to concerns regarding VITT [6].

For millions of people who have received the new vaccines, few side effects, if any, and vaccine development continue at an increasing pace [7]. Real-world safety monitoring and reporting is established in most countries. For example, the US has the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, and the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which was the first regulatory body in Europe to authorize a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, has an established Coronavirus Yellow Card reporting system [8]. The MHRA and the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) have made clear that the benefits of SARS-CoV-2 vaccination far outweigh the risk of VITT [8].

Studies have begun to investigate whether antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein cross-react with platelet factor 4 (PF4/CXLC4) in a similar way to autoimmune heparin-induced thrombocytopenia [9]. Recently, Greinacher et al. evaluated the clinical and laboratory findings from 11 patients in Austria and Germany who developed thrombosis or thrombocytopenia after vaccination with ChAdOx1 nCov-19 [9]. Nine patients were women with a median age of 36 years (range, 22 to 49 years) [9]. Symptoms began between 5 to 16 days following vaccination [9]. Ten patients presented with one or more thrombotic event and one patient suffered from a fatal intracranial hemorrhage [9]. Nine patients had cerebral venous thrombosis, three patients were diagnosed with pulmonary embolism, three patients had splanchnic vein thrombosis, four patients had other thromboses, five patients developed disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), and there were six fatalities [9]. None of the patients had a history of treatment with heparin [9]. All patients had immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia and platelet-activating antibodies against PF4 [9]. The authors concluded that VITT is a clinical mimic of autoimmune heparin-induced thrombocytopenia [9]. The Society of Thrombosis and Haemostasis Research (GTH) has recently issued clinical guidelines for the diagnosis and management of VITT, which is also termed vaccine-induced prothrombotic immune thrombocytopenia (VIPIT) [10].

Conclusions

SARS-CoV-2 vaccines represent hope for reducing the prevalence and severity of acute COVID-19 and possibly ‘long COVID.’ Population epidemiological monitoring in countries that established early and full vaccination programs have shown reduced mortality rates from SARS-CoV-2. However rare, the mechanism for VITT requires urgent investigation to identify risk factors that may guide the use of alternative vaccines and reduce concerns that may deter compliance with global vaccination programs.

References

1. COVID-19 Data Repository: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE), Johns Hopkins University https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html

2. Wang F, Kream RM, Stefano GB, An evidence based perspective on mRNA-SARS-CoV-2 vaccine development: Med Sci Monit, 2020; 26; e924700

3. Polack FP, Thomas SJ, Kitchin NC4591001 Clinical Trial Group, Safety and efficacy of the BNT162b2 mRNA Covid-19 vaccine: N Engl J Med, 2020; 383(27); 2603-15

4. Voysey M, Clemens SAC, Madhi SA, Oxford COVID Vaccine Trial Group: Safety and efficacy of the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine (AZD1222) against SARS-CoV-2: An interim analysis of four randomised controlled trials in Brazil, South Africa, and the UK. Lancet, 2021; 397(10269); 99-111

5. Schultz NH, Sørvoll IH, Michelsen AE, Thrombosis and thrombocytopenia after ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccination: N Engl J Med, 2021, doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa2104882 [Online ahead of print]

6. CDC Media Statement, Joint CDC and FDA Statement on Johnson & Johnson COVID-19: Vaccine April 13, 2021 https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2021/s0413-JJ-vaccine.html

7. Chauhan N, Soni S, Gupta A, Aslam M, Jain U, Interpretative immune targets and contemporary position for vaccine development against SARS-CoV-2: A systematic review: J Med Virol, 2021; 93(4); 1967-82

8. Press Release: MHRA issues new advice, concluding a possible link between COVID-19 vaccine AstraZeneca and extremely rare, unlikely to occur blood clots April 7, 2021 https://www.gov.uk/government/news/mhra-issues-new-advice-concluding-a-possible-link-between-covid-19-vaccine-astrazeneca-and-extremely-rare-unlikely-to-occur-blood-clots

9. Greinacher A, Thiele T, Warkentin TE, Thrombotic thrombocytopenia after ChAdOx1 nCov-19 vaccination: N Engl J Med, 2021, doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa2104840 [Online ahead of print]

10. Oldenburg J, Klamroth R, Langer F, Diagnosis and management of vaccine-related thrombosis following AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccination: Guidance statement from the GTH: Hamostaseologie, 2021, doi: 10.1055/a-1469-7481 [Online ahead of print]

Errate

Med Sci Monit 2021; 27:e932986     https://medscimonit.com/abstract/index/idArt/932986
ABSTRACT The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 (AZD1222), uses double-stranded DNA, while the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines include single-stranded RNA to encode the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. Reference: Parums DV. Editorial: SARS-CoV-2 mRNA Vaccines and the Possible Mechanism of Vaccine-Induced Immune Thrombotic Thrombocytopenia (VITT). Med Sci Monit 2021; 27:e932899; 10.12659/MSM.932899

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Medical Science Monitor eISSN: 1643-3750
Medical Science Monitor eISSN: 1643-3750