PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Tony Villiotti had a liver transplant in 2018.
He's fully vaccinated against COVID-19 but realizes his immune response may not be as strong because of his medicines.
"If I got COVID, I could be in deep water," said Villiotti.
Many Americans rejoice at doing away with their masks, but some people with cancer, autoimmune disorders and transplants on drugs that affect the immune system aren't as thrilled to be around so many mask-less faces.
"I do know that if I would get COVID," said Villiotti, "I'd be more highly at risk because of the immune suppression that the anti-rejection drugs bring."
"Some patients are mounting a response, some are not, zero basically," said Allegheny Health Network cancer specialist Dr. Cyrus Khan. "We don't really know how well protected they are."
It isn't clear yet how much of an antibody response somebody needs for protection. That is being studied.
"I'm still advising them to follow the same protocols where they are masking, and being careful being in large gatherings," said Dr. Khan, who recommends masking for at least six more months for people taking these drugs to allow more information to be gathered.
Other studies are looking at whether pausing these medicines or giving a booster dose of the vaccine helps.
"What do we do about those patients moving forward? Do they need to be revaccinated? Do they need a different sort of vaccination? And so on. A lot of information is missing right now," Dr. Khan said.
Villiotti, however, does not worry about moving forward in a mask-less world. Having had a transplant, his outlook is bold.
"I kind of made the decision that I'm going to live every day as if it could be my last," he said.
for more features.