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COVID Vaccines May Not Be Enough To Protect Transplant Recipients

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - While doctors say the COVID vaccine is our best protection against the virus, new studies have found for organ transplant patients, it may not be enough.

As CBS2's Jenna DeAngelis reports, within days Jennifer Perez went from going to the hospital to ending up in a coma.

"It's something I get very emotional about," she said. "I had autoimmune hepatitis and pretty much, very rapidly, I went from feeling unwell to acute liver failure."

The 37-year-old says a liver transplant at North Shore University Hospital in March saved her life.


"I don't think I realized how close I was to dying until after the surgery," she said.

At risk of contracting severe COVID, the mother of two can't wait to be cleared for her vaccine.

"I'm looking forward to it. I want to feel a little safer," she said.

"The question is, what happens when transplant patients get vaccinated? Because of the drugs that they're on that prevent them from rejecting the organ, would they have the same response to a vaccine? And the answer is, they don't," said Dr. Lewis Teperman, director of transplantation for Northwell Health.

In a recent study, Teperman found only 40% of transplant patients tested had a response to the two dose COVID vaccines, meaning 60% are not protected. Similar results came out of a Johns Hopkins study, with nearly half producing no COVID antibodies.

"I think it's still very important that all the transplant recipients get vaccinated. So even if it's, let's say, 50%, those 50% are going to be taken out of the equation and not continue the viral spread," he said.

Teperman says patients with a reduced vaccine response should continue wearing masks and distancing while awaiting a solution.

"We're calling for a study. It has got to be looked at to see if you in fact can increase the response with a third dose, or cross platforms and go to another company's vaccine," he said.

In the meantime, with COVID restrictions easing, he's urging all get vaccinated to protect themselves and vulnerable patients.

"Just do it. I think that you have to have a positive outlook, you have to be hopeful," Perez said.

She's getting her first dose next week. Once she's fully vaccinated, she'll be tested to see if she developed antibodies.

While those who've already been transplanted may not benefit from a vaccine, those awaiting a transplant who get a shot would likely develop protective antibodies. That's why Teperman says it's important the thousands of people still on the waiting list get vaccinated beforehand. This way, they know they'll be protected.

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