CHICAGO, IL — The CDC says immunosuppressed people who are fully vaccinated account for up to 44% of breakthrough infections requiring hospitalizations. It’s why the FDA authorized a third dose for them.
While there are studies underway to determine just how much protection that booster may provide for millions, it may take more than an additional dose to give them peace of mind.
For most people who are vaccinated against COVID-19, the jab meant relief and some semblance of protection against the deadly virus.
“I was so excited. I really felt that all I needed to do was get a vaccine and that life would be good,” said Barbara Creed, a retired music teacher who underwent a double lung transplant last year.
She’s among the 3% of adults in the United States who are immunocompromised.
Statistically, she has an 82-fold higher chance of a breakthrough COVID infection and is 485 times more likely to have an infection that would lead to hospitalization or even death.
She got her third Pfizer dose just a few weeks ago.
“I got the Pfizer all three times,” said Creed. “I know they got a good response in people who are not immunocompromised. The only question is what it's like for us.”
Among some severely immunocompromised people, like solid organ transplant recipients, cancer patients, those with HIV, and people who take immunosuppressant drugs, the CDC says there was virtually no protection after two doses.
“The Johns Hopkins data was finding that about 20-25% of their patients were responding after a second dose, but that left a large group of individuals who were not responding,” said Dr. Michael Angarone, an infectious disease specialist and associate professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.
A small study in Israel primarily found that twice as many organ transplant recipients developed antibodies after a third dose compared to those who only had two. And a Canadian study of third doses in transplant recipients found additional protection.
“They were able to get an immune response or antibody response with an additional dose of the vaccine to an additional 30% of patients. So, getting us to 50%,” said Dr. Angarone.
Most physicians like Creed’s are advising against an antibody test post third dose, because it may provide a false sense of security.
Dr. Angarone says the delta variant and breakthrough cases have proven that even with an antibody response an infection can occur.
“I think the using the antibody test as a risk assessment tool or a risk divining rod is not the appropriate way to use the antibody,” he said.
More important, he says, is to ensure that they surround themselves with people who are fully vaccinated.
“I think we still have to rely on those with working and healthy immune systems to protect those that have a compromised immune system,” he said.
Barbara Creed says it’s more about peace of mind than absolute certainty.
“I do feel like I possibly have more protection,” she said. “Of course, I don't know that, but it's a good feeling to know that there was a booster out there and that I was able to get it.”