News Nature Communications
March 9, 2023

COVID-19 mRNA Vaccination Does Not Promote Autoantibody Development

In an article published in Nature Communications, researchers from Benaroya Research Institute (BRI) and Yale University confirm that COVID-19 immunization does not drive the development of new autoantibodies. While safe overall, mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines are associated with rare vaccine-related adverse events. These events coupled with observations that acute SARS-CoV-2 infection is associated with increased autoantibodies brought into question whether COVID-19 vaccination also promotes the development of autoantibodies, particularly in patients with preexisting autoimmune disease.

Researchers used rapid extracellular antigen profiling, an autoantibody screening approach developed by Aaron Ring, MD, PhD, at Yale to characterize self- and viral-directed antibodies secreted by immune cells before and after SARS-CoV-2 mRNA vaccination. They confirmed that most individuals generated robust virus-specific antibody responses post-vaccination, but that the quality of the response is impaired in autoimmune patients on certain modes of immunosuppression. Additionally, they found that COVID-19 mRNA vaccination was not associated with development of new autoantibody responses and there was no difference in the dynamics of autoantibodies, even in patients with preexisting autoimmune disease or COVID-19 vaccine-related myocarditis.

Through its biorepository, BRI recruited individuals with and without autoimmune disease. Participants were seen for this study before and after their first COVID-19 immunizations. Yale researchers recruited individuals with myocarditis associated with COVID-19 immunization, and a group of health care workers who received the vaccine – about half of whom were seropositive prior to vaccination. 

The results of this work bolster the emerging safety profile of mRNA vaccines and highlights their ability to decouple SARS-CoV-2 immunity from the autoantibody responses observed during acute COVID-19 infection.