Each week, OMRF physician-scientist Dr. Eliza Chakravarty opens “Adam’s Journal” to answer a medical question from OMRF Senior Vice President and General Counsel Adam Cohen.
With mask restrictions rapidly loosening or disappearing, how will this affect people with compromised immune systems? Have the vaccines worked as well for them as for the general population? If not, what can they — and we — do to help protect them?
Dr. Chakravarty Prescribes
It’s estimated that 3% to 4% of the U.S. population has a weakened immune system. This occurs for many reasons.
In a medical intervention like chemotherapy, it’s temporary, and the immune system usually bounces back after treatment. But a compromised immune system is permanent for those who’ve had an organ transplant or live with an autoimmune condition — lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, for example — like those we treat and study at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. This can be due to lifelong immunosuppressant medications or the diseases themselves.
The Covid-19 vaccine trials did not specifically study immunocompromised people. Although vaccination has been shown to be safe for those with weakened immune systems, we don’t know how effective the shots are in them.
Early research suggests a mixed bag dependent on individual conditions and medications. One study of organ transplant patients showed close to half didn’t develop an antibody response after two doses of a Pfizer or Moderna shot. And in a study of fully vaccinated people with autoimmune diseases, 15% had diminished or no antibody response at all.
So, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this month issued new guidance that said fully vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks in most situations, it did so with an asterisk. The agency noted that fully vaccinated people with weakened immune systems may still need to take all precautions to prevent Covid-19. In other words, get vaccinated, but pretend you’re not.
The best way for us to help protect immunocompromised family and friends is for you to get vaccinated. Every shot can limit the virus’ spread and reduce the chance it reaches a vulnerable person. And although unlikely, it’s possible for fully vaccinated people to catch and transmit the virus. That means that even once you’re inoculated, it’s critical to continue to exercise caution while around the immunocompromised.
Do you have a health query for Dr. Chakravarty? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and your question may be answered in a future column!