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Researchers: Vaccine may not be as effective in transplant recipients

Posted at 4:00 AM, May 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-05 09:24:43-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A small study from Mayo Clinic shows solid organ transplant recipients may not respond to the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines the same way the broader community does.

The study looked at seven transplant recipients who became infected after receiving a vaccine. Six of them were tested for spike antibodies, which is the type of antibody generated by the vaccine.

Of the six, only one tested positive for a low level of spike antibodies 44 days after receiving the vaccine, meaning the immune systems weren't producing the needed response to fight the virus.

"This study is eye-opening for the transplant community. Our study suggests that transplant patients don't have the same immune response as the general population. They got infected after getting vaccinated and lifting protective measures, thinking they were immune to the virus," the study read.

The study notes more research needs to be done.

Transplant recipients were excluded from the vaccine trials.

Tricia Rolo received a liver/kidney transplant from The University of Kansas Health System in February. She wasn't able to receive the vaccine until 90 days post-transplant.

"It's been a little scary going out in public, being around people," Rolo said. "The whole thing is, that I have to make sure that they've had their COVID shot."

Rolo plans to get her vaccine in the middle of May. Her surgeon, Dr. Tim Schmitt, said whether or not a transplant recipient responds to the vaccines depends largely on when they get vaccinated.

"Certainly, right after transplant they're more immunosuppressed, they probably won't respond," Schmitt said.

It's not just transplant recipients who may not receive the full benefits of the vaccine.

Doctors said anything that suppresses the immune system, such as cancer chemotherapy, immune therapy for rheumatoid arthritis or other diseases like that could cause a less than normal response to the vaccine.

Still, doctors recommend everyone gets the vaccine, saying some level of protection is better than none.

Patients can ask their doctor to check their antibodies to see if they responded to the vaccine.

Dr. Schmitt also recommends people continue to follow basic guidelines when it comes to preventing infections, like proper handwashing, social distancing and wearing a mask.

Rolo said she still plans to get vaccinated.

"I'm just hoping that my body will accept it and build what it needs to, to ward it off," she said.