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      Thrombotic Thrombocytopenia after ChAdOx1 nCov-19 Vaccination

      , M.D. , , M.D., , M.D., , Ph.D., , M.D., , M.D.
      The New England Journal of Medicine
      Massachusetts Medical Society
      Keyword part (code): 2Keyword part (keyword): Hematology/OncologyKeyword part (code): 2_3Keyword part (keyword): Coagulation , 2, Hematology/Oncology, Keyword part (code): 2_3Keyword part (keyword): Coagulation, 2_3, Coagulation, Keyword part (code): 12Keyword part (keyword): Pulmonary/Critical CareKeyword part (code): 12_5Keyword part (keyword): Anticoagulation/Thromboembolism , 12, Pulmonary/Critical Care, Keyword part (code): 12_5Keyword part (keyword): Anticoagulation/Thromboembolism, 12_5, Anticoagulation/Thromboembolism, Keyword part (code): 14Keyword part (keyword): CardiologyKeyword part (code): 14_5Keyword part (keyword): Anticoagulation/Thromboembolism , 14, Cardiology, Keyword part (code): 14_5Keyword part (keyword): Anticoagulation/Thromboembolism, 14_5, Anticoagulation/Thromboembolism, Keyword part (code): 18Keyword part (keyword): Infectious DiseaseKeyword part (code): 18_2Keyword part (keyword): VaccinesKeyword part (code): 18_6Keyword part (keyword): Viral Infections , 18, Infectious Disease, Keyword part (code): 18_2Keyword part (keyword): VaccinesKeyword part (code): 18_6Keyword part (keyword): Viral Infections , 18_2, Vaccines, 18_6, Viral Infections

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          Several cases of unusual thrombotic events and thrombocytopenia have developed after vaccination with the recombinant adenoviral vector encoding the spike protein antigen of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) (ChAdOx1 nCov-19, AstraZeneca). More data were needed on the pathogenesis of this unusual clotting disorder.


          We assessed the clinical and laboratory features of 11 patients in Germany and Austria in whom thrombosis or thrombocytopenia had developed after vaccination with ChAdOx1 nCov-19. We used a standard enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay to detect platelet factor 4 (PF4)–heparin antibodies and a modified (PF4-enhanced) platelet-activation test to detect platelet-activating antibodies under various reaction conditions. Included in this testing were samples from patients who had blood samples referred for investigation of vaccine-associated thrombotic events, with 28 testing positive on a screening PF4–heparin immunoassay.


          Of the 11 original patients, 9 were women, with a median age of 36 years (range, 22 to 49). Beginning 5 to 16 days after vaccination, the patients presented with one or more thrombotic events, with the exception of 1 patient, who presented with fatal intracranial hemorrhage. Of the patients with one or more thrombotic events, 9 had cerebral venous thrombosis, 3 had splanchnic-vein thrombosis, 3 had pulmonary embolism, and 4 had other thromboses; of these patients, 6 died. Five patients had disseminated intravascular coagulation. None of the patients had received heparin before symptom onset. All 28 patients who tested positive for antibodies against PF4–heparin tested positive on the platelet-activation assay in the presence of PF4 independent of heparin. Platelet activation was inhibited by high levels of heparin, Fc receptor–blocking monoclonal antibody, and immune globulin (10 mg per milliliter). Additional studies with PF4 or PF4–heparin affinity purified antibodies in 2 patients confirmed PF4-dependent platelet activation.


          Vaccination with ChAdOx1 nCov-19 can result in the rare development of immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia mediated by platelet-activating antibodies against PF4, which clinically mimics autoimmune heparin-induced thrombocytopenia. (Funded by the German Research Foundation.)

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          Most cited references25

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          Autoimmune heparin-induced thrombocytopenia.

          Autoimmune heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (aHIT) indicates the presence in patients of anti-platelet factor 4 (PF4)-polyanion antibodies that are able to activate platelets strongly even in the absence of heparin (heparin-independent platelet activation). Nevertheless, as seen with serum obtained from patients with otherwise typical heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (HIT), serum-induced platelet activation is inhibited at high heparin concentrations (10-100 IU mL-1heparin). Furthermore, upon serial dilution, aHIT serum will usually show heparin-dependent platelet activation. Clinical syndromes associated with aHIT include: delayed-onset HIT, persisting HIT, spontaneous HIT syndrome, fondaparinux-associated HIT, heparin 'flush'-induced HIT, and severe HIT (platelet count of < 20 × 109 L-1) with associated disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC). Recent studies have implicated anti-PF4 antibodies that are able to bridge two PF4 tetramers even in the absence of heparin, probably facilitated by non-heparin platelet-associated polyanions (chondroitin sulfate and polyphosphates); nascent PF4-aHIT-IgG complexes recruit additional heparin-dependent HIT antibodies, leading to the formation of large multimolecular immune complexes and marked platelet activation. aHIT can persist for several weeks, and serial fibrin, D-dimer, and fibrinogen levels, rather than the platelet count, may be helpful for monitoring treatment response. Although standard anticoagulant therapy for HIT ought to be effective, published experience indicates frequent failure of activated partial thromboplastin time (APTT)-adjusted anticoagulants (argatroban, bivalirudin), probably because of underdosing in the setting of HIT-associated DIC, known as 'APTT confounding'. Thus, non-APTT-adjusted therapies with drugs such as danaparoid and fondaparinux, or even direct oral anticoagulants, such as rivaroxaban or apixaban, are suggested therapies, especially for long-term management of persisting HIT. In addition, emerging data indicate that high-dose intravenous immunoglobulin can interrupt HIT antibody-induced platelet activation, leading to rapid platelet count recovery.
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            American Society of Hematology 2018 guidelines for management of venous thromboembolism: heparin-induced thrombocytopenia

            Background: Heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (HIT) is an adverse drug reaction mediated by platelet-activating antibodies that target complexes of platelet factor 4 and heparin. Patients are at markedly increased risk of thromboembolism. Objective: These evidence-based guidelines of the American Society of Hematology (ASH) are intended to support patients, clinicians, and other health care professionals in their decisions about diagnosis and management of HIT. Methods: ASH formed a multidisciplinary guideline panel balanced to minimize potential bias from conflicts of interest. The McMaster University GRADE Centre supported the guideline development process, including updating or performing systematic evidence reviews. The panel prioritized clinical questions and outcomes according to their importance for clinicians and patients. The Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) approach was used to assess evidence and make recommendations, which were subject to public comment. Results: The panel agreed on 33 recommendations. The recommendations address screening of asymptomatic patients for HIT, diagnosis and initial management of patients with suspected HIT, treatment of acute HIT, and special situations in patients with acute HIT or a history of HIT, including cardiovascular surgery, percutaneous cardiovascular intervention, renal replacement therapy, and venous thromboembolism prophylaxis. Conclusions: Strong recommendations include use of the 4Ts score rather than a gestalt approach for estimating the pretest probability of HIT and avoidance of HIT laboratory testing and empiric treatment of HIT in patients with a low-probability 4Ts score. Conditional recommendations include the choice among non-heparin anticoagulants (argatroban, bivalirudin, danaparoid, fondaparinux, direct oral anticoagulants) for treatment of acute HIT.
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              CLINICAL PRACTICE. Heparin-Induced Thrombocytopenia.


                Author and article information

                N Engl J Med
                N Engl J Med
                The New England Journal of Medicine
                Massachusetts Medical Society
                09 April 2021
                From Institut für Immunologie und Transfusionsmedizin, Universitätsmedizin Greifswald, Greifswald (A.G., T.T.), and the Division of Safety of Medicinal Products and Medical Devices, Paul-Ehrlich-Institut (Federal Institute for Vaccines and Biomedicines), Langen (K.W.) — both in Germany; the Departments of Pathology and Molecular Medicine and of Medicine, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada (T.E.W.); and the Department of Medicine I, Division of Hematology and Hemostaseology, Medical University of Vienna, Vienna (P.A.K., S.E.).
                Author notes
                Address reprint requests to Dr. Greinacher at Institut für Immunologie und Transfusionsmedizin, Abteilung Transfusionsmedizin, Sauerbruchstrasse, 17487 Greifswald, Germany.

                Drs. Greinacher and Thiele contributed equally to this article.

                Copyright © 2021 Massachusetts Medical Society. All rights reserved.

                This article is made available via the PMC Open Access Subset for unrestricted re-use, except commercial resale, and analyses in any form or by any means with acknowledgment of the original source. These permissions are granted for the duration of the Covid-19 pandemic or until revoked in writing. Upon expiration of these permissions, PMC is granted a license to make this article available via PMC and Europe PMC, subject to existing copyright protections.

                Funded by: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, FundRef http://dx.doi.org/10.13039/501100001659;
                Award ID: Projektnummer 374031971 – TRR 240
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