Should Kidney Recipients Take the COVID Vaccine–and When?

This week I attended a National Kidney Foundation webinar that answered questions about kidney patients and the COVID vaccine. As the mother of a kidney transplant recipient (my recipient, actually), I naturally have a particular interest in the topic. As a living donor, though, it doesn’t appear that I have any reason to need or receive priority for a vaccine. Yes, I have just one kidney, but it’s doing a great job and I’m otherwise healthy. Most living donors can say the same.

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As far as transplant recipients, though, the need is clear. They are at greater risk of developing serious complications if they get COVID. Unfortunately, the vaccine trials did not include transplant recipients or people who are immunosuppressed.

That makes it reasonable to ask how the scientists know that the vaccines are safe for chronic kidney patients. Given that it’s not a live vaccine and that the research builds on similar research that goes back a lot farther than the less-than-a-year in which the COVID vaccines have been developed, are valid reasons for optimism.

Still, some say, yeah, but they don’t know for sure. To answer that, most health authorities point to the unknown additional risks of the vaccines vs. well-known risks of COVID. Put another way, they believe that the known benefits of the vaccines far outweigh the known risks of developing severe complications from COVID. On balance, I’d say the argument for taking the vaccine wins hands down.

In fact, in view of chronic kidney patients’ risk of severe illness from COVID, NKF issued a statement last month calling on federal policymakers to bump up priority for them in vaccine distribution plans. Because infected household members and caregivers would pose a significant risk to these people, the statement urges inclusion of their caregivers and kidney care providers as well.

Kidney patients who receive the vaccines are being asked to provide feedback on their own reactions/experience to offset the lack of specific study-level information. As thousands of people receive the vaccine every day, more and more data will be available for study. Johns Hopkins University is currently doing a research study on the vaccine for transplant recipients.

The bottom line, of course, is that every transplant recipient, every dialysis patient—hell, every patient—is different. Discuss your own health risks with your transplant team, kidney specialist, or primary care provider.

Personally, I’m ready and eager to take the vaccine as soon as they get up to my group (65 plus) in my area. Whether you’re a kidney patient or a living donor, or potentially one or the other, I hope you are, too.

*****

Co-author, The Insider’s Guide to Living Kidney Donation: Everything You need to Know If You Give (or Get) the Greatest Gift, to be published in 2021.

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