Advance with MUSC Health

MUSC Health gastroenterologist urges IBD patients to get two-dose vaccine

Advance With MUSC Health
September 23, 2021
Dr. Erin Forster

As COVID-19 shows no sign of going away, an MUSC Health gastroenterologist has a message for inflammatory bowel disease patients: Get vaccinated.

Dr. Erin Forster, assistant professor of gastroenterology and director of the MUSC IBD Center, says research shows the two-dose vaccines are safe, effective and necessary for patients on biologic therapy.

“The authorization of the vaccines in April 2020 was a landmark event in the battle against COVID-19,” she says. “Based on the science, we can say with confidence that getting fully vaccinated reduces risk of COVID infection and hospitalization. Even those who do get COVID are less likely to be in the hospital and on a ventilator.”

To make her case, Forster cites consensus guidelines released in early 2020 by the International Organization for the Study of Inflammatory Bowel Disease. The 60-member organization released several statements supporting vaccines, including key points to help providers guide patients with IBD, which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis:

  • Patients with IBD should be vaccinated.
  • The best time for vaccination is as early as possible.
  • Vaccines are safe to administer.
  • The vaccination timing does not have to be adjusted based on the use of biologic infusions, injections or oral therapies.
  • Vaccination efficacy may be decreased in patients on steroids.

Forster says additional data show rates of IBD patient reactions to the vaccine are relatively low and mirror that of the general population.

“IBD patients on biologics and patients not diagnosed with IBD reported short-term malaise and fatigue along with some redness and some swelling at the injection site and these symptoms typically resolved in several days.”

Moreover, she says, no evidence has emerged to indicate that the vaccine causes IBD flares.

Forster emphasizes the above data apply to the two-dose mRNA Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

Gut biome seen through a microscope 

“Many of our IBD patients on biologics and other therapies questioned whether they would have serious side effects from the shot. It was evident we needed to know more about safety and efficacy of the vaccines and any adverse effects on IBD patients on medications such as immunomodulators, biologics and mesalamines,” she says.

“We’re fortunate to have these guidelines because we can confidently counsel patients and hopefully successfully encourage them to get vaccinated.”

To keep patients informed of the latest scientific data, Forster and her colleagues continually monitor new research results worldwide.

They’re encouraged by the findings. A study in the U.K. showed that IBD patients on biologics developed adequate immunity after taking the two-dose vaccine series.

MUSC Health physicians also are participating in the SECURE-IBD Database, a worldwide registry where physicians can submit their IBD patients’ experience with COVID-19.

Developed in 2020, the registry monitors and reports outcomes of COVID-19 in patients with IBD.

Forster plans to launch a study comparing vaccination rates for MUSC Health IBD patients with the general population across the state.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, MUSC Health has worked to keep IBD patients well, shifting to telemedicine, adopting safety strategies to avoid disruption in treatment, and offering same-day vaccinations for patients.

Forster emphasizes mask-wearing and social distancing for all her patients, particularly those who remain vaccine hesitant. Equally as important, she wants patients to feel comfortable talking to their providers.

“We want our patients to feel that they have access to accurate information,” she says. “We’re well equipped to talk with them about hesitancy and willingness, and can orient toward reputable and reliable info. Most of all, we want to demonstrate that we have protected our patients well during this time.”

Dr. Forster is a board-certified gastroenterologist and also specializes in advanced endoscopy. To make an appointment with Dr. Forster, call 843-792-6982.