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VERIFY: Yes, transplant patients are covered by the COVID-19 vaccine, but many will be at a less effective rate

Solid organ transplant patients take medicine to suppress their body's immune system so it doesn't reject the organ they received.

People who are considered to have "high-risk" health conditions are some of the most vulnerable when it comes to the COVID-19 virus.

A recent study from Johns Hopkins University showed that 46% of organ transplant recipients did not get antibodies from the vaccines.

THE QUESTION

Are organ transplant patients covered by the COVID-19 vaccines?

THE SOURCE

Dr. Cameron Wolfe, associate professor of medicine in the Transplant Infectious Disease Group at Duke University

Dr. Beth Kassanoff-Piper, President of the Dallas County Medical Society

THE ANSWER

Yes, transplant patients are covered by the COVID-19 vaccines, but the efficacy may be reduced by anti-rejection medications.

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WHAT WE FOUND

Solid organ transplant patients take medicine to suppress their body's immune system so it doesn't reject the organ they weren't born with.

This anti-rejection medicine impacts the part of the body that also controls your response to a vaccine, meaning the person taking the medicine would make fewer antibodies and the medicine would make the shot less effective.

"Those anti-rejection medicines allow their body to be happy about being transplanted, but the counter to that is the same part of your immune system that controls rejection also controls your response to a vaccine," Wolfe said. "It also controls your response to a virus, for that matter."

This type of anti-rejection medicine impacts these patients for many types of vaccines and diseases, not just COVID-19.

"They do affect people's ability to respond and not just to the COVID vaccines but sometimes other vaccines as well," Kassanoff-Piper said.

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Since many of these patients will not get full coverage from the vaccine, medical experts say they should continue to wear masks and social distance after getting fully vaccinated.

"Those patients still need to use extreme caution, in terms of their activities, after they get their vaccine," Kassanoff-Piper said. 

In most cases, the more recently a person has received an organ transplant will make the COVID-19 vaccine shot less effective than someone who received theirs a long time ago.

While it may not be as effective, health experts say the vaccine is just as safe for someone with an organ transplant as it is for someone without one. Vaccines also provide other benefits in addition to antibodies.

"They're safe," Wolfe said. "They work. They may not work as well. But that doesn't mean they're not effective."

Not only is the vaccine safe for organ transplant patients, but health experts say the vaccine will not negatively impact the immune system's connection with the organ that has been transplanted.

"The safety in a transplanted person is exactly the same as the very good safety data we have for the general population," Wolfe said.