Article Text

Safety and disease flare of autoimmune inflammatory rheumatic diseases: a large real-world survey on inactivated COVID-19 vaccines
  1. Yong Fan,
  2. Yan Geng,
  3. Yu Wang,
  4. Xuerong Deng,
  5. Guangtao Li,
  6. Juan Zhao,
  7. Lanlan Ji,
  8. Xiaohui Zhang,
  9. Zhibo Song,
  10. Haoze Zhang,
  11. Xiaoying Sun,
  12. Dai Gao,
  13. Wenhui Xie,
  14. Hong Huang,
  15. YanJie Hao,
  16. Zhuoli Zhang
  1. Department of Rheumatology and Clinical Immunology, Peking University First Hospital, Beijing, China
  1. Correspondence to Professor Zhuoli Zhang, Department of Rheumatology and Clinical Immunology, Peking University First Hospital, Beijing, China; zhuoli.zhang{at}

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COVID-19 vaccines are of great importance in reducing SARS-CoV-2 infection and severe cases. Patients with autoimmune inflammatory rheumatic diseases (AIIRDs) have been strongly recommended to be vaccinated according to the novel guidance because they are more vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2 infection.1 However, patients with AIIRDs were largely excluded from vaccine trials, leading to very limited data on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines. Notably, previous studies mainly focused on mRNA and adenovirus vector vaccines; however, little is known about inactivated COVID-19 vaccines that also have been authorised by WHO and widely used in several most populated countries, for instance, China, Brazil, Turkey and Indonesia.2 A large randomised clinical trial consisting of 40 382 participants has demonstrated two inactivated COVID-19 vaccines significantly reduced the risk of symptomatic COVID-19.3

We conducted a real-world survey to evaluate the safety profiles and disease flare in patients with AIIRDs who received any dose of inactivated COVID-19 vaccines in China. From 1 Aug 2021 to 15 Oct 2021, eligible participants completed a predefined 25-question-based questionnaire by invitation on social media or visiting the outpatient department. There was no restriction on the time interval from vaccination to completing the survey.

In total, 1507 adults patients with AIIRDs who received inactivated COVID-19 vaccine participated in this study (flow diagram in online supplemental figure 1). The median age of participants was 39 (IQR 31–51) years. There were 1166 (77.4%) female patients and 209 (13.9%) patients with self-identified allergic history. Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) (614, 40.7%) was the most common AIIRD among participants, followed by rheumatoid arthritis (RA) (434, 28.8%), Behcet’s disease (BD, 122, 8.1%), psoriatic arthritis/psoriasis (PsA/PsO) (76, 5.0%), primary Sjogren’s syndrome (74, 4.9%) and ankylosing spondylitis (44, 2.9%) (online supplemental figure 2).

Among all participants, 450/1507 (29.9%) participants experienced adverse events (AEs) after vaccination (table 1). Local AEs, such as pain, redness or swelling at injection site, were reported to occur in 287 (19.0%) participants. Meanwhile, 260 (17.3%) patients reported systemic AEs after vaccination. Fatigue or sleepless (123, 8.2%) was the most reported systemic AE, followed by headache (82, 5.4%) and skin rash (55, 3.6%). The median time from vaccination shot to onset of AEs was 2 days. Most AEs were mild to moderate and self-limiting. Overall, 28 (1.9%) patients self-reported severe AEs. There were only three patients who were hospitalised due to serious diarrhoea, headache and cough. No one reported AE of interests or fatal AE, including myocarditis, idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, anaphylactic shock or death.

Table 1

Safety and flare data of AIIRDs after receiving inactivated COVID-19 vaccines

Flare of existing AIIRDs was reported by 158 (10.5%) participants, with requirement of treatment escalation in 53 (3.5%) patients. Joint pain (61/158, 38.6%) and swelling (31/158, 19.6%) were the most common manifestations of disease flare, followed by skin rash (27/158, 17.1%), morning stiffness (20/158, 12.7%) and febrile recurrence (14/158, 8.9%). Interestingly, the frequencies of AE and flare of AIIRDs were generally lower in inflammatory arthritis patients (RA or PsA/PsO) than those in patients with systemic AIIRDs (eg, SLE and BD) (online supplemental figure 3). Multivariable logistic analyses demonstrated that elderly, allergic history was the risk factor for disease flare of their underlying AIIRDs, while stable disease of AIIRDs was the negative predictor for self-reported disease flare only (online supplemental table 1).

Our data confirmed the safety profiles, and for the first time demonstrated the disease flare after inactivated COVID-19 vaccination in patients with AIIRDs. Overall, 29.9% of participants experienced AEs after vaccination and no fatal AEs occurred, indicating the well tolerability of inactivated COVID-19 vaccines in AIIRDs population. Importantly, our results aligned with a large real-world study supported by European League against Rheumatism(EULAR) COVID-19 database (83% mRNA vaccines), whose vaccine-related AEs were observed in 31% of patients.4 Considering the possibility of over-activating immune system by adjuvanted vaccines, the stability of AIIRDs after vaccinations has been a principal concern. In this study, we found that although 1 in 10 reported a flare of disease after inactivated COVID-19 vaccination, fewer than 1 in 25 required treatment escalation. No episode of severe flare needing emergent hospitalisation was reported. Furthermore, we found elderly patients and those with allergic history were more likely to have disease flare after vaccinations. These call for important clinical needs for early warning of flare and close monitoring after vaccination. The incidence of AEs and AIIRD flares was generally comparable among all COVID-19 vaccines.4–6 These may provide evidence for rheumatologists in critical discussion on vaccine acceptance.

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Patient consent for publication

Ethics approval

The ethical approval was waived for this study due to its retrospective design and this was an internet-based survey.


The authors would like to thank all the staffs and patients participated in this study. We appreciate the assistance of Chinese Alliance of Behcet’s disease, MiJian Lupus Management Platform and Smart System of Disease Management.


Supplementary materials

  • Supplementary Data

    This web only file has been produced by the BMJ Publishing Group from an electronic file supplied by the author(s) and has not been edited for content.


  • Handling editor Josef S Smolen

  • YF and YG contributed equally.

  • Contributors ZZ and YG contributed to the study concept, study design, data interpretation and critically revised the manuscript. YF and YG were involved in analysing data and drafting the work. All authors contributed to acquisition of data and interpretation of data.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.