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Study looks at effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines in organ transplant recipients

Posted at 9:38 PM, Mar 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-18 23:13:39-04

A new study is looking at the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines among people who received an organ transplant.

On Monday, researchers at Johns Hopkins University released the findings. They tested 436 people who had received new organs. Transplant recipients across the United States were recruited through social media.

The study raised questions about how well the vaccine protects organ transplant recipients. Participants received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. About 20 weeks after the first dose, 17% of the transplant recipients had developed antibodies against COVID-19.

"I think at the end of the day, there will be a large group of transplant patients who don't have a response to the vaccine and we really need to figure out what to do for them," said Dr. Dorry Segev, a Professor of Surgery and Epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University and co-author of the study.

Dr. Robert Montgomery, Director of the NYU Langone Transplant Institute, has worked as a transplant surgeon for nearly 20 years. In 2018, he needed a heart transplant.

Heart Transplant

"I have been a surgeon for 30 years and a transplant surgeon for 20 years and I have a genetic cardiomyopathy so that's a problem with the heart muscle that is inherited and that eventually led to me needing a heart transplant in 2018," said Dr. Montgomery.

Dr. Montgomery received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in December. He said he was one of the first transplant patients to receive the vaccine because he is a frontline healthcare worker.

"The original vaccine trials did not include patients with transplants or patients who were immunosuppressed and so we really didn't know how immunosuppressed patients were going to respond to the vaccine so through the Johns Hopkins trial, they monitored a large group of patients."

"I was pretty typical of most of their patients in that I didn't have any measurable response to the vaccine until well after the second dose and the response that I did have was about one tenth of what was normal so really delayed response," said Dr. Montgomery.

Participants were vaccinated between December 16, 2020, and February 5, 2021.

Dr. Montgomery said at this point, it is unclear if he has any protection against COVID-19.

"I would just urge people to remain extremely cautious until we have a better understanding, but the way things look right now, you should not assume if you've had a transplant and your immunosuppressed that it's safe to congregate even with other people who had the vaccine," said Dr. Montgomery.

Dr. Segev said researchers are looking at preliminary data related to the second dose. Those findings should be released in the next month.

Dr. Segev believes vaccinated transplant patients need to still be careful.

"Several of my colleagues have talked to me about transplant patients who had the full vaccine series and read the CDC guidelines, thought they were fine, reduced, relaxed their behavior, got COVID and are now in the hospital for it. I can't emphasize enough that transplant patients need to be careful out there," said Dr. Segev.