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COVID-19 vaccines and transplant patients: Is vaccination safe?

Yes. You should get the vaccine. Here's why.

placeholder image Illustration: Getty Images

As of April 13, 2021, VCU Health has stopped administering the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine based on FDA and CDC guidance.

As a transplant patient, the medicines you take to prevent organ rejection weaken your ability to fight infections. You’re extra cautious in your daily life. You wash your hands often and stay away from crowds. This is true in times of pandemic or not.

Many vaccines contain part of the virus that makes you sick. Is that the case with the COVID vaccines? Should you get the vaccine, or should you avoid it? Can the vaccines give you COVID-19? Here, Dr. Megan Morales, director of transplant infectious disease at VCU Hume-Lee Transplant Center, answers your questions regarding the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines for transplant patients.

Dr. Megan MoralesIs the vaccine safe for transplant patients?

Yes.The vaccine is safe. Transplant patients should receive the COVID-19 vaccine. None of the vaccines approved by the FDA contain live coronavirus nor do they contain a weakened or dead version of the coronavirus. The vaccines have no coronavirus to pass on to you. You will not be exposed to this virus in any way.

I’m still worried. Is the vaccine worth the risk? I don’t want to take any chances on getting COVID-19.

 Again, the vaccine does not contain the virus that causes COVID-19, so you can’t get the disease from the vaccine. It’s definitely worth getting vaccinated. All currently authorized vaccines available in the United States have been highly effective at preventing COVID-19.

• The Pfizer vaccine is 95% effective at preventing COVID-19 in general patient populations.

• The Moderna vaccine is 94% effective at preventing COVID-19 in general patient populations.

• The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is 85% effective at preventing severe COVID-19 in general patient populations

At this time, it is recommended that transplant recipients receive whatever vaccine may be available to them. Transplant patients were excluded from the initial trials — which is standard practice — but studies are now underway to better understand how vaccines will best protect transplant patients specifically.

As more information becomes available, we will update you as to the vaccine type, dosing and regimen that will be most effective for transplant patients. To be clear, any degree of protection from this deadly disease is better than no protection. Transplant patients may be more likely to have severe disease and require hospitalization or care in the ICU, so please remember that the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks, which are often mild side effects.

What are the side effects of the vaccine?

In available safety data of transplant patients who have received the vaccine so far, reactions were generally mild and similar to those of non-transplant patients. Side effects included mild, temporary soreness, redness or swelling at the injection site, headache and fever. Importantly, there were no reported cases of organ rejection or severe allergic reaction. 

When can I get the vaccine?

The vaccine is now available for all transplant patients age 16 and up. You can follow the VCU Health COVID vaccine page, the Virginia Department of Health website (and vaccine registration process) or contact your transplant coordinator for additional information.

Your household members should also get vaccinated when it becomes available to them. Having vaccinated people around you will make you safer, as well.

You can also bookmark this story and check for updates. Should you have any questions, please call us at (804) 828-4104.

What if I’ve already had COVID-19?

You should get vaccinated even if you've had COVID-19. You may have some degree of protective antibodies for a period of time, but the vaccine will give you additional protection against reinfection. You should wait until you have fully recovered from COVID-19. We encourage you to discuss the timing of your vaccination with your transplant team to make the best decision for you.

If you received monoclonal antibody treatment or convalescent plasma, it is recommended to delay vaccination by 90 days after treatment.

Should patients waiting for transplant be vaccinated?

Yes, you should get the COVID-19 vaccine before your transplant if possible. Many transplant candidates have other health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure or advanced kidney disease, which may put them at increased risk of severe COVID-19. Ideally, this would be done at least two weeks before transplant to give your immune system time to respond effectively. However, we will not delay your transplant because of a more recent vaccine.

Should I get the vaccine as soon as it’s available for transplant patients?

New transplant recipients should delay receiving a COVID-19 vaccine:

• Kidney transplant patients should wait three months after transplant
• All other organ recipients should wait one month after their transplant surgery.

Additional patients may also need to adhere to the three-month window. Those patients will be informed directly by our care team.

This delay in vaccination is necessary to give your immune system enough time after transplant to recover to a level where the vaccine is more likely to be effective.

After I get the vaccine, am I safe right away? Do I have to wear a face mask or practice social distancing?

Protection may take a few weeks and may vary for pre-and post-transplant patients. Now is not the time to let up on the safety precautions you have been observing.

The CDC recently changed recommendations for vaccinated individuals to allow them to spend time together in small groups. However, this does not apply to people at high risk of COVID infection, which includes transplant patients and those on immune-suppressing medications. You should continue to observe safe practices. This includes wearing your mask, practicing frequent hand hygiene, physical distancing from others and avoiding unnecessary outings. Do not stop until you’re told to.

We’re here for you

Please know that all of us at Hume-Lee are here to guide you through the vaccination process. Our team is closely monitoring vaccine developments, distribution and recommendations for transplant patients.

We are on this journey together. Should you have any questions, you may call us at (804) 828-4104. For additional transplant-specific information, visit the American Society of Transplantation COVID-19 resource page

For more information

For a variety of news and information on COVID-19 and how VCU Health is keeping patients safe, please visit our COVID-19 News Center

See All News See Vaccine News

Sign Up for E-Newsletter

 

 

 

As of April 13, 2021, VCU Health has stopped administering the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine based on FDA and CDC guidance.

As a transplant patient, the medicines you take to prevent organ rejection weaken your ability to fight infections. You’re extra cautious in your daily life. You wash your hands often and stay away from crowds. This is true in times of pandemic or not.

Many vaccines contain part of the virus that makes you sick. Is that the case with the COVID vaccines? Should you get the vaccine, or should you avoid it? Can the vaccines give you COVID-19? Here, Dr. Megan Morales, director of transplant infectious disease at VCU Hume-Lee Transplant Center, answers your questions regarding the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines for transplant patients.

Dr. Megan MoralesIs the vaccine safe for transplant patients?

Yes.The vaccine is safe. Transplant patients should receive the COVID-19 vaccine. None of the vaccines approved by the FDA contain live coronavirus nor do they contain a weakened or dead version of the coronavirus. The vaccines have no coronavirus to pass on to you. You will not be exposed to this virus in any way.

I’m still worried. Is the vaccine worth the risk? I don’t want to take any chances on getting COVID-19.

 Again, the vaccine does not contain the virus that causes COVID-19, so you can’t get the disease from the vaccine. It’s definitely worth getting vaccinated. All currently authorized vaccines available in the United States have been highly effective at preventing COVID-19.

• The Pfizer vaccine is 95% effective at preventing COVID-19 in general patient populations.

• The Moderna vaccine is 94% effective at preventing COVID-19 in general patient populations.

• The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is 85% effective at preventing severe COVID-19 in general patient populations

At this time, it is recommended that transplant recipients receive whatever vaccine may be available to them. Transplant patients were excluded from the initial trials — which is standard practice — but studies are now underway to better understand how vaccines will best protect transplant patients specifically.

As more information becomes available, we will update you as to the vaccine type, dosing and regimen that will be most effective for transplant patients. To be clear, any degree of protection from this deadly disease is better than no protection. Transplant patients may be more likely to have severe disease and require hospitalization or care in the ICU, so please remember that the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks, which are often mild side effects.

What are the side effects of the vaccine?

In available safety data of transplant patients who have received the vaccine so far, reactions were generally mild and similar to those of non-transplant patients. Side effects included mild, temporary soreness, redness or swelling at the injection site, headache and fever. Importantly, there were no reported cases of organ rejection or severe allergic reaction. 

When can I get the vaccine?

The vaccine is now available for all transplant patients age 16 and up. You can follow the VCU Health COVID vaccine page, the Virginia Department of Health website (and vaccine registration process) or contact your transplant coordinator for additional information.

Your household members should also get vaccinated when it becomes available to them. Having vaccinated people around you will make you safer, as well.

You can also bookmark this story and check for updates. Should you have any questions, please call us at (804) 828-4104.

What if I’ve already had COVID-19?

You should get vaccinated even if you've had COVID-19. You may have some degree of protective antibodies for a period of time, but the vaccine will give you additional protection against reinfection. You should wait until you have fully recovered from COVID-19. We encourage you to discuss the timing of your vaccination with your transplant team to make the best decision for you.

If you received monoclonal antibody treatment or convalescent plasma, it is recommended to delay vaccination by 90 days after treatment.

Should patients waiting for transplant be vaccinated?

Yes, you should get the COVID-19 vaccine before your transplant if possible. Many transplant candidates have other health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure or advanced kidney disease, which may put them at increased risk of severe COVID-19. Ideally, this would be done at least two weeks before transplant to give your immune system time to respond effectively. However, we will not delay your transplant because of a more recent vaccine.

Should I get the vaccine as soon as it’s available for transplant patients?

New transplant recipients should delay receiving a COVID-19 vaccine:

• Kidney transplant patients should wait three months after transplant
• All other organ recipients should wait one month after their transplant surgery.

Additional patients may also need to adhere to the three-month window. Those patients will be informed directly by our care team.

This delay in vaccination is necessary to give your immune system enough time after transplant to recover to a level where the vaccine is more likely to be effective.

After I get the vaccine, am I safe right away? Do I have to wear a face mask or practice social distancing?

Protection may take a few weeks and may vary for pre-and post-transplant patients. Now is not the time to let up on the safety precautions you have been observing.

The CDC recently changed recommendations for vaccinated individuals to allow them to spend time together in small groups. However, this does not apply to people at high risk of COVID infection, which includes transplant patients and those on immune-suppressing medications. You should continue to observe safe practices. This includes wearing your mask, practicing frequent hand hygiene, physical distancing from others and avoiding unnecessary outings. Do not stop until you’re told to.

We’re here for you

Please know that all of us at Hume-Lee are here to guide you through the vaccination process. Our team is closely monitoring vaccine developments, distribution and recommendations for transplant patients.

We are on this journey together. Should you have any questions, you may call us at (804) 828-4104. For additional transplant-specific information, visit the American Society of Transplantation COVID-19 resource page

For more information

For a variety of news and information on COVID-19 and how VCU Health is keeping patients safe, please visit our COVID-19 News Center

See All News See Vaccine News

Sign Up for E-Newsletter