Benjamin Street feels as if he has been stripped of the promise that vaccines would protect him -- robbed of the chance to get back to normal life.
“[I was] thinking this is really cool, it's going to be great, it's going to work, everyone is going to get it and then we’ll be back to normal,” Street said, recalling what he felt when he heard the vaccine had been approved. “But here we are.”
Street is fully vaccinated, but as a kidney transplant patient he’s been told that his return to normalcy could now be on hold.
“It's been kind of scary and a little defeating," Street said. That's because Street is among the millions of immunocompromised people for whom the shots may not work like they're supposed to.
“One of the issues with this vaccine is that in order to get the protection your immune system has to respond to the vaccine, and that's how the vaccine does its job,” explained Dr. Dorry Segev, a transplant surgeon and researcher at John Hopkins University. “There are 10 million Americans who are on medication to purposely suppress their immune system.”
Segev is behind a study looking specifically at transplant patients who suffer from underlying conditions.
“In our study of a couple of thousand transplant patients we found that only half of the transplant patients develop any antibodies even after the second dose of the vaccine, and even those who develop antibodies have lower levels than people with normal immune systems,” Segev said.
Segev's advice for patients like Street is to get vaccinated but continue to act as if they haven't.
“Whatever the CDC tells unvaccinated people is safe to do is what vaccinated immunosuppressed people should be limiting themselves to until we have better answers,” Segev said.
The good news is, scientists are prepared with some potential solutions such as boosters or high-dose shots, according to Segev. It's something he suspects we will see in the coming months.
For now, Segev said the best chance Street and others have to be protected is for everyone around them to get vaccinated.
“There are people out there like myself who could be your family member,” said Street.
A simple plea for an act of kindness that could save the lives of the hundreds of thousands of people still living in isolation.