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September 16, 2020

Perioperative Immunization for Splenectomy and the Surgeon’s Responsibility: A Review

Author Affiliations
  • 1Perelman School of Medicine, Department of Surgery, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
JAMA Surg. 2020;155(11):1068-1077. doi:10.1001/jamasurg.2020.1463

Importance  Patients who have had splenectomy have a lifelong risk of overwhelming postsplenectomy infection (OPSI), a condition associated with high mortality rates. Surgeons must be aware of the rationale of vaccination in the case of splenectomy, to provide appropriate immunization in the perioperative time.

Observations  English-language articles published from January 1, 1990, to December 31, 2019, were retrieved from MEDLINE/PubMed, Cochrane Library, and ClinicalTrials.gov databases. Randomized clinical trials as well as systematic reviews and observational studies were considered. Asplenia yields an impairment of both innate and adaptive immunity, thus increasing the risk of severe encapsulated bacterial infections. Current epidemiology of OPSI ranges from 0.1% to 8.5% but is hard to ascertain because of ongoing shifts in patients’ baseline conditions and vaccine penetration. Despite the lack of randomized clinical trials, immunization appears to be effective in reducing OPSI incidence. Unfortunately, vaccination coverage is still suboptimal, with a great variability in vaccination rates being reported across institutions and time frames. Notably, current guidelines do not advocate any particular health care qualification responsible for vaccine prescription or administration. Given the dearth of high-level basic science or clinical evidence, the optimal vaccination timing and the need for booster doses are not yet well established. Although almost all guidelines indicate to not administer vaccines within 14 days before and after surgery, most data suggest that immunization might be effective even in the immediate perioperative time, thus placing the surgeon in a primary position for vaccine delivery. Furthermore, revaccination schedules are the target of ongoing debates, since a vaccine-driven hyporesponsiveness has been postulated.

Conclusions and Relevance  In patients who have undergone splenectomy, OPSI might be effectively prevented by proper immunization. Surgeons have the primary responsibility for achieving adequate, initial immunization in the setting of both planned and urgent splenectomy.

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