Some Should Stop Methotrexate for 2 Weeks After J&J Vaccine

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The National Psoriasis Foundation COVID-19 Task Force now recommends that certain patients on methotrexate consider stopping the drug for 2 weeks after receiving the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, Joel M. Gelfand, MD, said at Innovations in Dermatology: Virtual Spring Conference 2021.

The new guidance states: “Patients 60 or older who have at least one comorbidity associated with an increased risk for poor COVID-19 outcomes, and who are taking methotrexate with well-controlled psoriatic disease, may, in consultation with their prescriber, consider holding it for 2 weeks after receiving the Ad26.COV2.S [Johnson & Johnson] vaccine in order to potentially improve vaccine response.”

The key word here is “potentially.” There is no hard evidence that a 2-week hold on methotrexate after receiving the killed adenovirus vaccine will actually provide a clinically meaningful benefit. But it’s a hypothetical possibility. The rationale stems from a small randomized trial conducted in South Korea several years ago in which patients with rheumatoid arthritis were assigned to hold or continue their methotrexate for the first 2 weeks after receiving an inactivated-virus influenza vaccine. The antibody response to the vaccine was better in those who temporarily halted their methotrexate, explained Gelfand, cochair of the NPF COVID-19 Task Force and professor of dermatology and of epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

“If you have a patient on methotrexate who’s 60 or older and whose psoriasis is completely controlled and quiescent and the patient is concerned about how well the vaccine is going to work, this is a reasonable thing to consider in someone who’s at higher risk for poor outcomes if they get infected,” he said.

If the informed patient wants to continue on methotrexate without interruption, that’s fine, too, in light of the lack of compelling evidence on this issue, the dermatologist added at the conference, sponsored by MedscapeLIVE! and the producers of the Hawaii Dermatology Seminar and Caribbean Dermatology Symposium.

The NPF task force does not extend the recommendation to consider holding methotrexate in recipients of the mRNA-based Moderna and Pfizer vaccines because of their very different mechanisms of action. Nor is it recommended to hold biologic agents after receiving any of the available COVID-19 vaccines. Studies have shown no altered immunologic response to influenza or pneumococcal vaccines in patients who continued on tumor necrosis factor inhibitors or interleukin-17 inhibitors. The interleukin-23 inhibitors haven’t been studied in this regard.

The task force recommends that most psoriasis patients should continue on treatment throughout the pandemic, and newly diagnosed patients should commence appropriate therapy as if there was no pandemic.

“We’ve learned that many patients who stopped their treatment for psoriatic disease early in the pandemic came to regret that decision because their psoriasis flared and got worse and required reinstitution of therapy,” Gelfand said. “The current data is largely reassuring that if there is an effect of our therapies on the risk of COVID, it must be rather small and therefore unlikely to be clinically meaningful for our patients.”

Gelfand reported serving as a consultant to and recipient of institutional research grants from Pfizer and numerous other pharmaceutical companies.

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