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Transplant patients get little or no protection from COVID vaccines

Studies show millions of transplant patients are not developing antibodies to fight coronavirus, even after becoming fully vaccinated.

INDIANAPOLIS — Transplant patients are desperate for a vaccine that works. Studies show they're getting little, if any, protection after being fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 

After Jen Weber received her second shot this spring, she felt her world had suddenly opened up. She could venture beyond her backyard, which had become her outdoor sanctuary.

"At first it was exhilarating," Weber said. "I was more excited than I thought. I felt like such a burden of worry had been lifted off me." 

That feeling didn't last long. 

She said, "I was tested and, sure enough, I did not respond to the vaccine."

Weber, who has had two double lung transplants, didn't generate any antibodies. Studies show she's among millions of immuno-compromised Americans for whom the vaccine doesn't provide much, if any, protection.

She said her doctors told her, "I had to act as if I had not been vaccinated. So I go from thinking I could go back to the life I had and now I'm back to the status quo."

RELATED: Indy man hospitalized since March walks and waits for double organ transplant

Weber, 47, is on oxygen 24/7 and uses a ventilator when she sleeps. She's in rejection, meaning her body doesn't accept her donor lungs as her own.

She spends two days a month at IU Health University Hospital undergoing a treatment to battle rejection. She also takes 50 pills a day. 

Still, before the mask mandates were lifted, she felt comfortable taking part in the Transplant Games and playing in a quartet at a farmers market. She's been with the Carmel Symphony Orchestra for 20 years.

But going out now feels a lot less safe, especially with the Delta variant of the coronavirus.

"I don't know if the person next to me is unmasked because they've been vaccinated or they choose not to wear a mask and are not vaccinated," Weber said.

So she mostly stays at home, not wanting to take the risk.

"Should I get sick, my capacity to recover from sickness is not great," she said.

Weber is considering getting a third shot as part of a study to see if another booster gives transplant patients any additional immunity.

RELATED: Extra COVID vaccine may help protect transplant patients

So far, studies show that one-third of transplant patients getting the added shot have developed some antibodies.

"Believe me, I'm done wearing masks. I've been wearing masks almost my whole life," Weber said.

But right now it's the only protection she has. She just hopes people realize life cannot yet return to normal for everyone.

"Its not just about me," she said. "With the variant now, everyone that can get vaccinated needs to or if they can't, make sure you're wearing a mask."

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