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Health, Science & Tech

New Data Give Insight To Levels Of Protection The COVID Vaccine Provides Different Patients

Dr. Ghady Haidar discusses the COVID-19 vaccine's efficacy in blood cancer patients.jpg
Dr. Ghady Haidar discusses the COVID-19 vaccine's efficacy in blood cancer patients.

Preliminary data from UPMC gives insight into how the COVID-19 vaccine might perform in elderly people and certain cancer patients, two populations at heightened risk if infected with the coronavirus. Inital vaccine studies did not specialize or include various populations, so more research is needed.

Older people tend to have less robust immune responses to some vaccines. To better understand the COVID vaccine’s efficacy within this group, UPMC says it collected blood samples from 70 long-term care residents a few weeks after they were vaccinated.

Researchers found that all residents produced antibodies that protect against the coronavirus, but that different research participants had different levels of antibodies.

“While there is an antibody response to the vaccine, we don’t know how good of an antibody response it is. How well does it protect vulnerable adults? Or exactly how long does this antibody response last?” said Dr. David Nace, UPMC’s chief medical officer for UPMC’s 30 senior communities.

Some long-term care facilities have been slow to loosen coronavirus restrictions. While facilities should still monitor their residents for COVID symptoms, it might be time to cautiously allow individuals more freedom, such as permitting indoor visits with guests.

“The question is, to what extent? How many visitors can come in at a time? Where [can] those persons can go within a facility…Distancing in the dining room,” said Nace, who is also the president of the Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine.

Regarding cancer patients, researchers at UPMC’s Hillman Cancer Center collected blood samples from 67 vaccinated people with blood cancers. A little over half of the patients produced coronavirus antibodies.

"Our findings in these patients aren't necessarily surprising because we know their immune systems are weak,"said Dr. Ghady Haider.

Like Nace’s research, the Hillman data have yet to be peer reviewed. However, Haider said the finding should be taken seriously.

“We need to alert the world that patients with cancers may not respond to the vaccines as well as others,” said Haider. “I don’t want patients like this throwing caution to the wind, and not masking and not social distancing.”

Haider said cancer patients should still get the vaccine, noting that it might still provide protection to people who don’t produce antibodies.

"There's a lot more to our immune systems than just antibodies," said Haider.

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