An important trial will test how to boost Covid jab protection in vulnerable patients whose immune systems are weakened by drugs they need for other health conditions.
Methotrexate is used to treat conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis in approximately 1.3 million people in the United Kingdom.
It reduces flare-ups but may impair the body’s ability to fight infections or respond to vaccines.
The team will investigate whether a two-week drug ban timed to coincide with vaccination will be beneficial.
A previous Korean study found that a fortnight’s break from methotrexate immediately following the flu vaccine increased the patients’ immune response to the vaccine.
The University of Nottingham researchers will recruit 560 methotrexate patients, with half of them attempting the two-week break when they are due to receive their third, or booster, Covid jab.
Although the Vroom study will take one to two years to complete, scientists hope it will provide confidence for some of the most vulnerable patients at risk from Covid.
Annabelle Imray, a 48-year-old Nottingham mother, is one of the participants.
She uses methotrexate to treat her psoriatic arthritis, which causes swollen joints and dry skin. She has to carefully plan her days because her condition causes her to feel exhausted at times.
She shielded earlier this year and says she is still cautious because she is afraid of catching Covid.
“I tell the kids that if I get it, I’m much more likely to become seriously ill than they are.”
“When I do go out, I’m concerned about walking close to strangers, or if someone is coughing without a mask, I’m concerned about the possibility of catching something.”
“Hopefully, the trial will make a significant difference for people on immune-suppressing medications, providing reassurance and confidence to do things they enjoy in their lives while knowing they are better protected.” The worst part is the uncertainty.”
According to Prof Abhishek Abhishek, the chief investigator, people on immunosuppressants are more likely to become ill if they contract Covid, and they may be less able to mount the strongest immune response to vaccines against the virus.
“We hope to find out whether they can safely take a break from medications for their inflammatory conditions, as well as improved protection from the booster jab, without risk of flare-up of their long-term illness, which affects their daily lives so heavily,” he said.
“Because many people have been taking methotrexate for more than 10 to 20 years, we hope to provide high-quality evidence that will help them with their day-to-day lives in the future.”
“This pivotal study will help develop our understanding of immune responses in people taking this widely prescribed medicine,” said Prof Andy Ustianowski of the National Institute for Health Research, which funded the research.