The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised immunocompromised individuals to continue to exercise caution during the current COVID-19 pandemic, even if fully vaccinated. While the CDC’s advisory committee is expected to provide additional guidance on the need for a third dose of the vaccine, we are currently racing against time as the delta variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (which causes COVID-19) is spreading in the U.S.
Vaccinated, But Still Need to Shield
The three vaccines (from Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson) that are currently authorized for emergency use against SARS-CoV-2 are being safely given to all populations, including immunocompromised (those who have a weak immune system) individuals and those on immunosuppression treatments (e.g. transplant patients). However, research has shown that even after being vaccinated, this population may not produce a strong immune response. The following are examples of individuals who should continue taking precautions, even if vaccinated:
- Those receiving chemotherapy for cancer
- Patients with blood cancer (leukemia), rheumatological conditions, or HIV
- Those who have received stem cell or organ transplant
- Those on hemodialysis
- Those on immunosuppressant medicines
Speak to your doctor or clinical care provider about the best way to continue protecting yourself even if vaccinated. Precautions should include:
- Continued use of a mask indoors
- Avoid poorly ventilated indoor spaces
- Use a mask outdoors if you cannot maintain a distance of at least six feet from others
- Avoid crowds
- Encourage immediate family members and those in close contact with you to get vaccinated
Should I Get Another Booster?
The CDC’s advisory committee for immunization is yet to make a decision on whether a third vaccine dose would help boost the protective response among immunocompromised individuals. The committee was scheduled to meet on July 22 to review the clinical issues associated with giving an additional dose to the 2-4% of the population who are immunocompromised.
While this third dose is being termed a “booster”, Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health disagrees. “I would call that trying to get the primary immunization into the effective place,” he said. The third dose did prove to be more effective in generating antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus (which is what the virus responsible for COVID-19 is called) in organ transplant patients in France who were administered the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. Immune response against the virus was:
- 4% after the first dose
- 40% after the second dose
- 68% after the third dose
Here are some additional disease-specific advisories:
- The American Cancer Society has provided specific information and precautions related to the virus and vaccination, for those diagnosed with cancer
- People with arthritis can refer to the guidance provided by the Arthritis Foundation
- UCSF has developed some FAQs regarding COVID-19 that transplant patients and their caregivers can look at for guidance
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Surabhi Dangi-Garimella, Ph.D. is a biologist with academic research experience, who brings her skills and knowledge to the health care communications world. She provides writing and strategic support to non-profit groups via her consultancy, SDG AdvoHealth, LLC.