TUESDAY, March 16, 2021 (HealthDay News) — Only 17% of organ transplant recipients developed antibodies against the new coronavirus a few weeks after receiving their first dose of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, researchers report.
Previous studies have shown that the first shot of the vaccines is enough to trigger antibody production in nearly all people with a healthy immune system, the Associated Press reported.
But transplant recipients take powerful immune-suppressing drugs to prevent organ rejection, which also increases their risk of COVID-19.
Transplant recipients weren’t included in clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccines, so Johns Hopkins researchers checked antibody levels a few weeks after a first vaccine shot was given to 436 people who’d received new organs in recent years, the AP reported.
Transplant recipients may have stronger antibody production after a second vaccine dose, and that’s something that will be investigated, said study co-author Dr. Dorry Segev, a transplant surgeon.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says fully vaccinated people can scale back some, but not all, masking and distancing precautions, but Segev said these findings show that may not apply to transplant recipients.
“From what we know, transplant patients cannot assume that they are safe after being vaccinated,” and may need post-vaccination blood tests to be sure, Segev told the AP.
Of most concern, people whose transplant medications include a particular type of anti-metabolite were far less likely to respond to the shot than those who don’t require that kind of drug, the team reported Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The new report is disappointing if unsurprising, because people with weak immune systems don’t respond as well to other vaccines, Dr. David Mulligan, Yale University’s chief of transplant surgery and immunology, told the AP.
Mulligan urged patients to check in with their transplant center for advice. Those waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant might be able to get vaccinated first. He added that some people who’ve already had a transplant might be good candidates to temporarily cut back on certain immune-suppressing drugs. And the immune-compromised should be sure to get both vaccine doses for maximum protection.
The American Society of Transplantation and some other transplant groups have already warned that transplant recipients may have a weak immune response to COVID-19 vaccines.
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