Immunocompromised people should remain cautious even after receiving COVID-19 vaccine

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- While the vaccines against COVID-19 work extremely well to protect most people, it doesn't work as well for everyone. Anyone with a compromised immune system isn't getting the same level of protection.

That can affect anyone on medication that suppresses their immune system - especially someone who has had a transplant.

The vaccine is still worth getting because it can help prevent serious complications, but precautions are still vital.

"I was under so much anxiety, all I could think of was when I am going to get this virus, when am I going to get complications," said Dr. Alin Graggossian.

That's how Dr. Graggossian was feeling at the start of the pandemic. She had a heart transplant in January 2019. Medication to prevent organ rejection helps protect her new heart, but it also makes vaccines less effective.

"This isn't surprising to those of us who work in the field," said Dr. Emily Blumberg of Penn Medicine.

Dr. Blumberg said antibody response to the COVID-19 vaccine for transplant recipients is about 50%, but there could be other elements of the immune system getting a boost.

Until we know more, she said patients like Graggossian need to continue precautions, even after fully vaccinated.

"We really do want them to avoid the crowds and the absence of masking in, you know, indoor settings with unknown groups of people," said Blumberg.

"I'm still doing everything I was doing before, so I am still wearing a mask in public," said Graggosian.

She takes that to heart, but is also living her life.

"I keep reminding people before COVID when we were all solid organ transplant patients, immunocompromised patients, we were still living our lives. We got this second chance at life for a reason," she said.

She tells her patients now not to be scared, but be cautious. She and Dr. Blumberg also encourage anyone not yet vaccinated to please reconsider.

"This is a good opportunity for every transplant patient to look at family and friends and say you can help me, you can protect me if you're vaccinated," said Dr. Blumberg.

And that goes back to herd immunity the more people vaccinated, the safer it is for everyone in the community - including people with compromised immune systems and also kids who can't be vaccinated yet.
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