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Fully vaccinated organ transplant recipients are considerably more likely than the vaccinated general public to get COVID-19, a new study claims.

Science Magazine suggested that even after being fully vaccinated with mRNA vaccine, regarded to be the most effective one, transplant patients cannot generate antibodies against the coronavirus.

However, according to a recent study titled "Risk of Breakthrough SARS-CoV-2 Infections in Adult Transplant Recipients," the lack of antibodies in transplant patients who have been properly immunized puts them at a considerably higher risk of COVID-19.

Lung Transplant
(Photo: Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels)

Breakthrough cases are when completely vaccinated individuals become infected at least 14 days following their last vaccine dose. Dr. Dorry Segev, a transplant surgeon at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in the United States, collaborated with his colleagues to conduct the study.

A prior study, titled "Antibody Response to 2-Dose SARS-CoV-2 mRNA Vaccine Series in Solid Organ Transplant Recipients," and was co-authored by Segev, claimed that just 54 percent of 658 transplant recipients who received two doses of an mRNA vaccine were able to generate antibodies needed to protect them against the coronavirus.

In a statement, Segev said that low antibody levels are a red flag. However, he added that it does not necessarily imply that they are not getting enough protection.

Fully-Vaccinated Transplant Patients at Higher Risk of COVID-19

More than 18,000 immunized organ transplant patients in the United States, Croatia, and France were studied.

They observed that COVID-19 made them 82 times more likely to get breakthrough infections, 485 times more likely to be admitted to the hospital, and 485 times more likely to die. 

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This, according to scientists, is most likely due to the fact that organ transplant patients are given medications to suppress their immune systems in order to prevent their bodies from rejecting the new organs, according to KYMA.com

Other experts, on the contrary, are concerned about the study's findings. In a statement to Science magazine, Eva Schrezenmeier, a nephrologist at Berlin's Charité University Hospital, said that the study might have underestimated breakthrough instances. Patients may have gone to various hospitals for COVID-19 therapy, or some may not have reported their breakthrough instances. Hence, the study may have overlooked some patients.

Dr. Deepali Kumar, a transplant infectious disease physician at University Health Network in Toronto, shared similar sentiments in the same Science Magazine report. Before reaching any conclusion, she stated that she would like to learn more about the people who had breakthrough infections.

Is a Third Dose Possible?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that immunocompromised people account for around nine million people in the United States. Hence, a third dose (booster dose) is being tested to see if it can better protect transplant recipients.

A recent study titled "Three Doses of an mRNA Covid-19 Vaccine in Solid-Organ Transplant Recipients," said that when experts administered a third dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to transplant patients, 68 percent of them can generate antibodies. That is compared to 40 percent of vaccine recipients who only received two doses.

Meanwhile, another study titled "Antibody Response After a Third Dose of the mRNA-1273 SARS-CoV-2 Vaccine in Kidney Transplant Recipients with Minimal Serologic Response to 2 Doses" claimed that doctors gave 159 kidney transplant recipients a third dosage of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. When two doses of the vaccine were given to these patients, they produced very little or no antibodies. However, 49 percent of the patients began to manufacture substantial antibodies following the third dose.

The third dosage of any vaccination, on the other hand, has yet to be recommended anywhere in the globe. More research is required before such a permit may be granted.

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Check out more news and information on COVID-19 in Science Times.