Published December 17, 2020 | While distribution of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine across the country has begun, many in the PKD community have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine. Chris Rusconi, Ph.D., chief research officer at the PKD Foundation, sits down with Patrick Dean, M.D., surgical director of the Kidney/Pancreas Transplant Program and a consultant and associate professor of surgery in the Division of Transplantation Surgery at Mayo Clinic Rochester, to answer your questions.
Chris Rusconi: Should our community get vaccinated for SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19)?
Dr. Dean: In short, yes—get vaccinated when you can. In addition, your family members should get vaccinated when they can.
It’s recommended by the CDC and the National Institutes of Health that individuals over the age of 16 receive a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2. Pregnant women should talk to their doctor to determine if it’s appropriate to receive the vaccine. Those who have had allergic reactions to any of its components should not receive the vaccine. In addition, persons with severe allergic reactions to other substances (i.e. medications) may need to be monitored longer after receiving the vaccine and should discuss this with their physician.
Chris: Why are you recommending that your patients receive the vaccine?
Dr. Dean: By getting vaccinated, you’ll be less likely to get sick with SARS-CoV-2, and if you do get sick, it may be a less severe form of illness. Also, by getting vaccinated yourself, you’re also helping to protect the people in your household and those you’re in contact with.
Chris: For those in our community who have reduced kidney function (Stage 4 or Stage 5 chronic kidney disease), should they get vaccinated?
Dr. Dean: Yes
Chris: If someone is on the waiting list for a transplant, should they get vaccinated?
Dr. Dean: Yes
Chris: What about those who have received a kidney or liver transplant and are on medications that suppress their immune system. Should they get vaccinated?
Dr. Dean: Yes.
Chris: Even though those individuals were excluded from the COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials?
Dr. Dean: The expert consensus opinion of the FDA, the CDC, the American Society of Transplant Surgeons, and the American Society of Transplantation is that transplant recipients should receive the vaccine. Although, if they’ve had a transplant in the last few months, they should discuss when they should receive the vaccine with their transplant team.
Chris: What if someone has already had COVID-19- should they still get vaccinated?
Dr. Dean: Yes. It’s not known if, or for how long after infection, someone is protected from getting COVID-19 again.
Chris: When will the vaccine become widely available?
Dr. Dean: Currently, it’s unknown when the vaccine will be available to the majority of the population, but it is likely that the majority of your healthcare providers and first responders will be vaccinated by February–March 2021. Until that time, each state has developed protocols to determine which groups will receive the vaccine first.
Chris: What should we do while waiting to receive the vaccine?
Dr. Dean: Please continue practicing the recommendations of the CDC and NIH regarding social distancing, masking, and hand washing. These measures have been shown to decrease or slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and many other infectious diseases and should be continued after receiving a vaccine as well.
Please take care of your general health. If you’ve not received an influenza vaccine, please do so. Make sure to monitor conditions such as diabetes mellitus and hypertension carefully.
Chris: Can the COVID-19 vaccine give me SARS-CoV-2?
Dr. Dean: In short, no. The currently approved Pfizer and (likely) soon to be approved Moderna vaccines do not contain any live virus and cannot cause infection. Some vaccine recipients may experience symptoms such as fatigue, muscle aches, mild fever, chills, and/or headache and feel like they have the “flu.” These symptoms are a natural response to receiving the vaccine.
Chris: If the Moderna vaccine gets approved, will I be able to choose between them? Is one better than the other?
Dr. Dean: For all practical purposes, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are equivalent and it’s likely that you’ll be offered one or the other rather than both depending upon which vaccine has been allocated to your state.
Chris: Should someone scheduled to donate a kidney in the next few months wait to get the vaccine?
Dr. Dean: In general, just like the general public, potential and actual living donors should receive a vaccine when they can. If they’re offered a vaccine within two weeks prior to scheduled donation, they should contact their transplant center for advice.
To find out when you can expect to get the vaccine, check out your state’s health department website.