A small new study offers a glimmer of hope that giving organ transplant recipients a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine could boost their protection against the coronavirus.
That’s important because prior research has shown that nearly half of organ transplant recipients failed to show any antibody response even after two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.
And even in transplant recipients who showed an antibody response to vaccination, that response was often more muted than in people with healthy immune systems. That has led doctors to advise these patients not to assume that vaccination equals immunity. More than 400,000 people in the U.S. are living with organ transplants, according to the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients.
In the new study, published this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine tracked 30 organ transplant recipients who got the third dose of COVID-19 vaccines.
They found that one-third of the patients who previously had no detectable antibodies showed an increase in their antibody levels after a third dose. And all of the patients who previously showed low levels of antibodies after two vaccine doses showed high levels of antibodies after their third dose.
“So for all involved, [these are] encouraging findings that we might be able to ultimately really reach protective immunity in immunosuppressed people,” says Dr. Dorry Segev, a transplant surgeon at Johns Hopkins Medicine and an author of the study. While the findings are preliminary, he says they’re also consistent with previous research on how transplant recipients respond to other vaccines.