Even though she is fully vaccinated, becoming ill with COVID-19 is a constant fear for LaToya Williams, a breast cancer survivor. Because she has a compromised immune system, Williams is more susceptible to the virus.
“Shortly after my cancer diagnosis I went in for an outpatient surgery and ended up with a punctured lung and that feeling of suffocating is just something that still haunts me to this day and if COVID is anything like that I don’t wish that on my worst enemy,” said Williams.
Williams is now waiting to hear if breast cancer survivors will be included among other immunocompromised people eligible for a booster shot to improve their immunity against COVID.
Doctors say the FDA action on a COVID booster shot will likely include organ transplant patients who are taking drugs to suppress their immune system to prevent their bodies from rejecting their new organs.
“For example, when I get a new kidney my immune system needs to be suppressed so the kidney is accepted by the body,” explained Dr. Waleed Javaid, director of Infection Prevention and Control at Mount Sinai Downtown. “During that time, if I receive the vaccine, it’s likely that I may not respond as well to the first few doses of the vaccine itself.”
Studies have shown that because of those immune-suppressing drugs, the vaccines are not as effective in transplant patients.
But it’s still unclear which other immunocompromised people will be included in this authorization for a third shot of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. Doctors say people with blood cancers may also be included because they are more likely to become seriously ill from COVID.
“A number of studies both from France and the United States and Canada have shown that an additional dose seems to dramatically improve the immune protection that these patients have,” said Dr. Marcus Pereira, director of Transplant Infectious Disease Program at Columbia University.
Dr. Anthony Fauci said booster shots for larger parts of the population will eventually be needed, but not right now. As for those who still have not received their first shot, LaToya Williams has this message for them.
“This past year of hearing people dying when the vaccine wasn’t available yet was so sad and unfortunate and now that it’s available and backed by science I definitely recommend getting the vaccine because the chances of dying from COVID are a lot,” Williams said.