COVID-19: Will the Two Shots of Vaccines be Enough for an Immunocompromised Person?

Countries all over the world are gearing up to give out the second dose of its COVID-19 vaccines and Ghana has not been left out. According to experts, vaccination is one of the surest ways to fighting and curbing the Coronavirus.

Due to this, the Ghana Health Service (GHS), after receiving 350,000 doses of the AstraZeneca (AZN.L) coronavirus vaccine through the COVAX facility, has started giving out the second doses of the vaccines in efforts to help the country to achieve herd immunity.

Whilst this is good news, there is a growing global concern over the effectiveness of the vaccines on immunocompromised people.

Are the two jabs of vaccines effective enough to help immunocompromised people to fight the Coronavirus? In this report, Fact – Ghana review what experts say.

Who is an immunocompromised person?

 An immunocompromised person is someone whose immune system’s defenses are low such that they are unable to fight off infections and diseases. According to the U.S Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “examples of persons with weakened immune systems include those with HIV/AIDS; cancer and transplant patients who are taking certain immunosuppressive drugs; and those with inherited diseases that affect the immune system.”

Simply put, someone who is immunocompromised will usually get sick more often, stay sick longer, and be more vulnerable to different types of infections as they grow older.

How does one become immunocompromised?

According to Scott Evans, M.D., a pulmonologist with the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, people can become immunocompromised for many reasons, including advanced age, metabolic disorders (such as diabetes), cancer treatments, and even cancer itself. In effect, anyone suffering from a chronic illness or taking any kind of immunosuppressant (a class of drugs that suppress, or reduce, the strength of the body’s immune system) can become immunocompromised.

Sarah Richards of the University of Chicago Medicine says autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus cause the immune system to short circuit and attack healthy tissue instead of protecting a person from infections. She adds that medications such as Corticosteroids and disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), including some new biologics which are used to reduce inflammation and control pain can also impair the function of the immune system thereby compromising it.

Why is COVID-19 dangerous to immunocompromised people?

Due to the respiratory infections caused by coronaviruses, anyone who is immunocompromised is at a greater risk of not recovering from the disease due to their weakened immune system.

The Director of Cell Therapy and Transplantation at Penn Medicine, David Porter, MD says “People with weak immune systems may not be able to fight COVID-19 as well as others. They may not have the immune response needed to fight it off in its beginning stages. Their ability to make antibodies may also be limited, so they may not be able to clear the virus once they get infected.”

Although Dr. Porter admits that medical professionals still need to do more research since there isn’t enough knowledge regarding this phenomenon, he is of the view that the first line of defense for any immunocompromised person is to able to do everything possible to avoid exposure and infection. That means there needs to be strict adherence to the recommendations made by the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in preventing the spread of COVID – 19.

Can the two shots of vaccines protect immunocompromised people from COVID-19?

Experts are skeptical about the potency of the vaccines in protecting immunocompromised people from COVID-19. A number of studies conducted by leading medical professionals are showing that people who are immunocompromised are less likely to develop immunity against the Coronavirus after vaccination.

A recent study titled Antibody Response to 2-Dose SARS-CoV-2 mRNA Vaccine Series in Solid Organ Transplant Recipients by Brian J. Boyarsky, MD, PhD; William A. Werbel, MD; Robin K. Avery, MD, et al., which looked at hundreds of organ transplant recipients revealed that only 15% produced antibodies to the coronavirus soon after the first dose of a mRNA vaccine. By the second dose, only 54% did.

Similarly, another study of solid organ transplant recipients by the Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers revealed that 46% of participants had no detectable antibody after two doses of an mRNA vaccine.

Another study by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center revealed that patients with cancer that affects the blood, bone marrow, or lymph nodes who had been vaccinated with either the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 two-dose vaccines three weeks earlier were at an elevated risk of COVID-19 vaccine failure. The study tested blood from 67 patients with hematologic malignancies and the tests found that more than 46% of the participants had not produced antibodies against COVID-19.

In conclusion, while researchers are not certain of total protection for an immunocompromised person even after taking the two doses of vaccines, studies so far point to a reduced rate of immunity building against the disease. Thus, it is recommended that everyone, especially immunocompromised persons, must strictly adhere to the COVID protocols, even after receiving the vaccines.

This report is produced under the project: COVID-19 Response in Africa: Together for Reliable Information being implemented with funding support from the European Union

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