Imperial College London

New study to explore how well COVID-19 vaccines protect dialysis patients

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Illustration of human kidneys

A new study will assess how well COVID-19 vaccines work in people who attend hospital for their dialysis treatment (haemodialysis).

Dr Michelle Willicombe and Dr Steve McAdoo, based within Imperial’s Department of Immunology and Inflammation, will work in partnership with researchers at the Francis Crick Institute to study how well COVID-19 vaccines protect dialysis patients from infection. The research, jointly funded by Kidney Research UK and the National Kidney Federation (NKF), will also establish how long vaccine-induced immunity lasts in these patients.

A number of COVID-19 vaccines are being rolled out across the world in the fight against the virus. However, although the vaccines have been tested in large-scale clinical trials, these studies did not specifically include people with kidney disease.

The new study will begin by investigating how people on haemodialysis respond to the vaccines. However, the research team hope to expand the study to include other kidney patients in the future.

This study complements the recently launched OCTAVE trial funded by the Medical Research Council, which is studying how well vaccines work in a wide range of vulnerable patients with different health conditions. 

Vital protection

If kidney patients catch COVID-19, they are more likely to become seriously ill or die from the infection than the general population. Many of these individuals have protected themselves by shielding, but often they cannot shield properly because they must regularly attend hospital.

“Vaccines are the best way to protect kidney patients,” explains Sandra Currie, chief executive of Kidney Research UK. “But we don’t currently know how well kidney patients respond to them, how much protection they offer and how long it might last.”

“With other vaccines such as flu or hepatitis B, the degree of kidney disease or whether someone is taking immunosuppressants means they don’t always work as well as they should,” she adds.

“It’s vital we understand how effective the COVID-19 vaccines are, so patients know if other protective measures are also needed – whether they need to continue shielding, for example. This information will also help doctors tailor treatment for them – including identifying the best time they should receive booster doses.”

Dialysis first

This study is starting with people who attend hospital for haemodialysis. These patients are at greater risk, as they need to travel to hospital for life-saving treatment three times a week, and have been shown to fare particularly badly if they develop COVID-19.

The research team will take blood samples from more than 1200 patients across the UK before they receive their first vaccine and compare the results with samples taken three to four weeks after both their first and second dose of vaccine. They will also test again after six and 12 months. Scientists at the Francis Crick Institute will analyse the samples to determine how the immune response changes over time.

Analysing these samples will enable the researchers to build up their knowledge about the pattern of immunity and establish if this vulnerable group of patients is protected in the short and long term. The study will also look at whether other factors are important, such as age, type of vaccine, ethnic background, kidney disease stage, and any other health conditions that patients are living with, such as diabetes.

Tailor-made trial

This research is the first step towards developing a better understanding of how well COVID-19 vaccines work in patients with kidney disease and may reveal ways to prevent the spread of infection, reduce disease severity, and save lives. The findings will help to inform doctors as to how well their patients are protected and for how long, which will enable them to provide better care and advice.

Imperial’s Dr Steve McAdoo said: “We’d like to thank Kidney Research UK and the NKF, and their supporters, for funding this vital work. There is a real chance this study will lead to changes in dialysis care within the next 12 months, such as highlighting the best time for them to receive their booster doses, to better protect dialysis patients from COVID-19.”

Sandra Currie, chief executive of Kidney Research UK, commented: “We are delighted to be funding this vital piece of research with the NKF that is so important for kidney patients, who are so vulnerable right now. Our study will reveal how well the vaccines protect them.”

“This is just the start, and we hope this trial will extend to a broader group of people, who also need answers. People who’ve had kidney transplants or are at another stage in their kidney journey also need to know how well they are protected.”

Andrea Brown, chief executive of the NKF said: “We are delighted to partner with Kidney Research UK to fund this crucial vaccine research study.”

“It was important for us to contribute to funding this study, which will help kidney patients be more informed about protecting themselves from COVID-19. We look forward to working together and are looking forward to seeing the results.”


This article was adapted from a press release by Kidney Research UK.

Image: Shutterstock

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Genevieve Timmins

Genevieve Timmins
Faculty of Medicine Centre

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Tel: +44 (0)20 7594 3278
Email: g.timmins@imperial.ac.uk

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Francis-Crick-Institute, Immune-system, Healthcare, Coronavirus, Global-health, Infectious-diseases, Viruses, Vaccines, Research
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