Patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) are at increased risk of herpes zoster (HZ). Although a vaccine for HZ has been FDA approved, its use in immunocompromised individuals remains controversial because it is a live-attenuated virus vaccine. We performed a pilot study of the immunogenicity of Zostavax® in SLE patients.
Ten SLE patients and 10 controls ≥50 years old participated in this open label vaccination study. All were seropositive for varicella zoster virus (VZV). SLE patients were excluded for SLEDAI>4, use of mycophenolatemofetil, cyclophosphamide, biologics, or >10 mg prednisone daily. Follow-up visits occurred at 2, 6, and 12 weeks. Clinical outcomes included the development of adverse events, particularly HZ or vesicular lesions, and SLE flare. Immunogenicity was assessed with VZV-specific IFN-γ producing ELISPOT assays and with antibody concentrations.
All subjects were women. SLE patients were slightly older than controls (60.5 vs. 55.3 years, p<0.05) Median baseline SLEDAI was 0 (range 0–2) for SLE patients. No episodes of HZ, vesicular rash, serious adverse events, or SLE flares occurred. Three injection site reactions occurred in each group: mild erythema or tenderness. The proportion of subjects with a >50% increase in ELISPOT results following vaccination was comparable between both groups, although absolute SLE responses were lower than controls. Antibody titers increased only among controls following vaccination (p<0.05).
Zostavax vaccination yielded a measurable immuneresponse in this cohort of mild SLE patients on mild-moderate immunosuppressive medications. No herpetiform lesions or lupus flares were seen in this small cohort of patients.