COVID’s forgotten victims

Dear Editor:

I would like to bring to everyone’s attention an aspect of our current COVID-19 reality that is not on most people’s radar, namely the immunosuppressed people who live in our communities.

This includes one of my family members, who is currently living with her second kidney transplant. She has been fully vaccinated for COVID-19. Unfortunately, this won’t enable her to enjoy the same freedoms most of us are now enjoying. Transplant patients, and others, take drugs designed to intentionally suppress the immune system. After decades of taking these immunosuppressant medications, in order to prevent her body from rejecting her foreign kidneys (she is not a candidate for dialysis), this family member is severely immunocompromised.

Recent Johns Hopkins research tells us “fewer than 20 percent of solid organ transplant patients mounted detectable antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 following a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine.” After the second dose the antibody response increases, but to levels that are still significantly lower than for “immuno-competent” people. By the way, their research also revealed that having a reaction to the vaccine (flu-like symptoms, etc.) does not mean that antibodies are being generated. Turns out these two things are not as strongly linked as we supposed, and this misconception is widespread. So, it’s not helpful for immunocompromised folks when people say, “Oh, you had a reaction to the vaccine, so you’ll be fine.” Good intentions but bad information.

As a consequence, my family member has been advised by her doctors not to change her behavior at all. She must still wear masks, practice social distancing and all the rest of it. But the world is changing and leaving people like her to manage their own safety without help. For example, her grocery store has done away with early morning “senior hours.” Through trial and error she discovered a quiet window of time at the store in the middle of the afternoons. For any kind of store, if she finds the parking lot particularly busy, she leaves and tries again later. The reason being, as much as she tries to maintain a safe physical distance out in public, she can’t control the behavior of others.

I was disappointed by the sudden rule change in May, which seemed premature. Of course, I’m very sympathetic to businesses and worried along with everyone else about our economy. I just want to remind everyone about our immunosuppressed loved ones and neighbors. Please keep them in mind. In particular, if you are not fully vaccinated, please help these folks out by wearing masks and keeping your distance in public. Thanks.

Medea Steinman


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