UPMC studying how COVID-19 vaccine affects those with pre-existing conditions

PITTSBURGH — A new study from researchers at UPMC is taking a closer look at the effectiveness of the COVID-19 in people with preexisting conditions.

The study examined nearly 500 immunocompromised patients, and examined their antibodies’ response to the vaccine.

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Researchers found lung transplant patients had the lowest response rate, with only 22% producing the antibodies needed to fight a COVID-19 infection.

However, 94% of patients who were HIV-positive responded to the vaccine, nearly the same percentage as people without a preexisting condition.

“We are looking at a diverse group of immunocompromised people, and it’s not surprising that vaccine responses differ depending on what existing health conditions you have,” said UPMC transplant infectious disease physician Dr. Ghady Haidar, the lead author of the study.

While the data shows COVID vaccines are less effective if you have an underlying condition, Haidar says they may provide other protections that scientists are still learning how to measure.

“Even people who don’t make antibodies, no matter how many boosters we give them, we need to remember there is probably some other component of the immune system that’s been triggered and activated that might confer some protection against SARS-COV-2.”

The message of caution is a difficult one, as we enter the first holiday weekend with no pandemic-related restrictions.

But Haidar hopes it’s one that will resonate with immunocompromised patients.

“I know it’s frustrating, I know people want to get on with their lives; but we need a little more time to perfect how we can best protect these patients.”

If you’re immunocompromised, Haidar’s advice is simple: continue wearing your mask. He says that extra time is important so scientists can gather more data and get a better understanding how the COVID-19 vaccine works, and how it can potentially protect you from infection.