INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Evidence shows the coronavirus vaccine is over 90% effective in protecting against the virus.

However, clinical trial participants were healthy without underlying conditions. This raises the question as to how protective the shots are in those who don’t fit in this profile. 

Johns Hopkins University researchers set out to find how the vaccine affects people who are immunocompromised, specifically those who are transplant recipients.

In a study led by research fellow Dr. Brian Boyarsky, 658 transplant recipients of all types — liver, lungs, kidney, etc. — from across the United States were recruited. The goal was to assess how the group responded to the vaccine. All had been vaccinated by either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines. 

After vaccination, Boyarsky and his team found just 54% of people developed antibodies against COVID-19 after full vaccination. 

“There are many conditions transplant recipients have that could dampen their immune system and response” to the vaccine, Boyarsky told News 8. “But, transplant recipients are also on strong antirejection immunosuppressive medications, which further dampens the immune system.”

The purpose of these immunosuppressive drugs, he says, is to prevent the body from rejecting the new organ. Once inside, the immune system recognizes the organ but as a foreign agent that needs to be eliminated. The immunosuppressants prevent this. 

Boyarsky studied everyone from new recipients to people who received an organ up to 40 years ago. He found the more time that’s passed since the transplant, the more protected a person is. 

“What we found is that those who were further out from transplant — 10, 20, 30 years — were more likely to develop antibody response to vaccination,” he said. “ It makes sense because at the time of transplant we give a heavy dose of immunosuppressants that are much higher than the maintenance doses.”

Boyarsky says his research could inform public health policy recommendations moving forward to protect this population. 

“The reason our findings are so important is because the CDC (the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has recommended a lot of relaxed social distancing guidelines. Removal of masks when congregating with vaccinated and even unvaccinated people. But, we do not think categorically that transplanted recipients … should assume they are immune to the virus after being vaccinated,” he added.

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