On April 14, the HeartBrothers Foundation launched its annual webinar series with an important COVID-19 update for transplant patients from top Boston doctors: Data shows vaccines do not appear to provide adequate immunity.
According to a Johns Hopkins study, vaccines produced COVID-19 antibodies in only 17% of transplant patients.
“The vaccine doesn’t mean immunity,” for transplant patients, said Dr. Helen Boucher, director of the Heart Transplant and Ventricular Assist Device Infectious Diseases Program at Tufts Medical Center.
”We still recommend sticking with all the mitigation measures,” including masks, hand washing, and social distancing.
“Right now, we don’t consider transplant recipients well protected by the vaccine,” added Dr. Camille Kotton, director of Transplant and Immunocompromised Host Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital.
“The vaccine is like a seatbelt in the car,” she added. “It’s better to have it than not, but you’re not fully protected.”
Many additional studies are being done — and there isn’t information yet about antibody responses in transplant patients after a second vaccine dose.
“We are seeing some transplant patients with a double [vaccine] dose still getting COVID,” Kotton said. “It’s heartbreaking.”
Both doctors urged transplant patients not to eat in restaurants or travel. They also suggested staying away from medium or large gatherings.
It is still worth getting the vaccine, they agreed.
“Some protection is still likely to be helpful,” Kotton said. And she encouraged people who spend time with transplant patients to get vaccinated to create an immunity “cocoon.”
“It’s much better to hang out with vaccinated people than unvaccinated people,” Kotton said.
“Variants are Taking Over”
The doctors emphasized that even with a large number of Americans getting vaccinated, the COVID risk remains high.
“We still have a really significant amount of disease in the country,” Kotton said. “We have over 31 million cases and almost 560,000 deaths. It’s very tragic. Even in the past seven days, we’re still seeing a good amount of disease.”
And the variants are an increasing threat.
“We are seeing a lot of variant strains throughout the country, especially this B117 from the UK. Seventy percent of what they’re seeing in Michigan is the UK strain. Variants are taking over.”
The HeartBrothers’ free webinars continue next month:
May 5, 5:30 pm: The Organ Care System & How It Will Affect Heart Transplant Patients, with New England Donor Services
Jun 2, 5:30 pm: Long-term Survival with Heart Transplant Patients in the COVID Age.
Aug 11, 5:30 pm: The HeartBrothers House. Learn about these special residences in the Back Bay for heart failure patients and their families.
To learn more about the HeartBrothers Foundation and all the ways it supports heart failure patients and their families, visit www.heartbrothers.org.