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How immunocompromised people are reacting to the COVID-19 vaccine, and the potential of 3rd doses

Getting everyone vaccinated would ‘make a world of difference’ said one Virginia man who is a kidney transplant survivor.
A COVID-19 vaccine
A COVID-19 vaccine(WVIR)
Published: Jul. 29, 2021 at 8:52 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - With COVID-19 cases on the rise across the country and in central Virginia, some of the people most concerned are those who are most at risk. They are immunocompromised people, and they are more likely to suffer serious disease.

Some examples of people with compromised immune systems are those undergoing dialysis, who have autoimmune diseases, who are taking immunosuppressive medication, and those undergoing treatments such as chemotherapy.

To get a better sense of what the current COVID climate is for those with compromised immune systems, we spoke with Dr. Alden Doyle. He’s the head of UVA Health’s Kidney and Pancreas Transplant Program.

He started by sharing good -- and bad -- news about the vaccine for that specific population.

“We know that patients who are transplanted who got vaccinated did well with [the vaccine],” he said. “The bad news is that... when you’re taking meds or have conditions that make our immune system not respond normally, it doesn’t respond normally to vaccines either.”

That means for some immunocompromised people, even vaccination can leave some risk.

“We’ve also seen some patients, either get very sick or even pass away, who have already been fully vaccinated,” Doyle said. “So we know that the risk is higher. It’s better with the vaccine.”

In some cases, it’s because they don’t produce any antibodies from their vaccination. That’s the case for Trevor Achilles, a kidney transplant recipient. Even after he got his two doses of the Moderna vaccine, he still didn’t have any antibodies. So he talked to his doctor, who advised him to get a third dose -- a Pfizer shot.

“I didn’t have any concerns or anything,” Achilles said. “I’m more worried about getting COVID than getting a third shot.”

He got that third shot on Thursday.

Doyle says studies have shown it can be successful, and he’s advised some of his patients to do the same thing.

“People (who) made either a low or no response, about half of them with a third dose came up at a pretty good response,” he said.

Doyle predicts eventually it’ll be more widely recommended that those at highest risk get another dose of vaccine. But the best way everyone can help, doctors say, is to simply get vaccinated.

“If I were to get sick, I really fear for the consequences,” Achilles said. “So I beg and plead, each and every one of you to get vaccinated because it would just make a world of difference for myself and others like me, who are not as healthy as the general population.”

There are many ways for you to get vaccinated in our community. Here are a few of them:

Find COVID-19 vaccines on Vaccines.gov

UVA Health COVID vaccination clinic

Blue Ridge Health District vaccination scheduler

Call the BRHD COVID-19 Hotline 434-972-6261

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