Do Immunosuppressive Drugs Hinder the COVID-19 Vaccine?

COVID vaccine

The COVID-19 vaccine has provided protection to hundreds of millions of Americans, but for millions of people, their medications may interfere with how effective the vaccine is.

CNN reports that taking immunosuppressive drugs may hinder the vaccine from working properly. June Tatelman, who takes these drugs to treat inflamed blood vessels in her lungs, was told by her doctor that no antibodies of COVID-19 were found in her body after she had been vaccinated and she was left with a slew of concerning questions -- did the vaccine not work for her? Should she get a third dose? Is cutting back on her medication something she should consider? Was there something else she could do to help the vaccine work better?

In addition to June, tens of millions of other Americans are also reportedly taking immunosuppressive drugs that may weaken the effect of the vaccine, which is even more of a reason that people who are able to get vaccinated need to get their shots.

"Even if you think you don't need to, think about this as a donation of your own goodwill to those who are more vulnerable. That's the best hope they have." National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins tells CNN.

Health experts are unsure of just how many Americans are taking medications that could interfere with the vaccine, but rheumatologist Dr. Beth Wallace estimates it could be close to 60 million.

When the vaccines were being developed people who were taking immunosuppressive drugs were not included in the clinical trials, Now that vaccines have been administered widely, research is being conducted on how well (and how poorly) the vaccine is working on the immunocompromised.

The results have been mixed. A study found that those taking meds for ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease had "robust" antibody responses to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Another study on organ transplant patients who take meds to suppress their immune system to stop their body from rejecting their new organs found that 46 percent had no antibody response after being fully vaccinated with Pfizer and Moderna. In a third study, patients with lupus, psoriasis, and inflammatory bowel disease -- and who were taking glucocorticoids and B cell depleting agents --had a "substantially" impaired ability to produce an immune response.

CNN's health experts, the FDA, and the CDC advise against checking your antibody levels because it is not useful and they say it is not known what level of antibody will protect people from the virus and people's concerns will not be answered based on an antibody test. The CDC also currently advised against getting a third vaccine dose. 

So what can individuals who are taking immunosuppressive drugs do in the meantime? Unfortunately, they must continue to wait. 

"[We're] going to have to figure out what do we need to do if we want to adequately protect these people," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, tells CNN, which reports further studies on immunosuppressed patients are being conducted this summer, including more research if a third dose will help and whether doses of a monoclonal antibody drug that is being used to treat COVID will be effective.

If you need to get your COVID vaccine, it's simple, easy, and free! Find a location near you at vaccines.gov, text your ZIP code to 438829, or call 1-800-232-0233.

More: Will Kids under 12 Be Able to Get the COVID-19 Vaccine by Thanksgiving?

More: Real-World Ways the COVID-19 Vaccine Is Working

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