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Local doctor discusses COVID-19 and immunocompromised Hoosiers

Posted at 8:12 PM, Aug 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-09 07:42:36-04

INDIANAPOLIS — As the pandemic continues and hospitalizations rise across the country, a local infectious disease expert is sharing guidance on the COVID-19 vaccine for the 3% of adult Americans who are immunocompromised.

Dr. Cole Beeler, Medical Director of Infection Prevention at IU Health, says it's important for immunocompromised people to speak with their doctor, but recommends they get the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says those living with conditions like COPD, diabetes and cancer are at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

For those taking immunosuppressant medications for conditions like lupus, psoriasis or rheumatoid arthritis, Dr. Beeler says it's important to talk to your doctor about finding a specific time to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“I wouldn't worry that if someone was on an immune suppressing drug, if they got the vaccine, that something bad would happen to them. It's more that if we're going to give someone a vaccine, we want to make sure they have the highest probability of developing a response," Beeler explained. "Immunosuppressing medications intentionally are to shut the immune system down and for them not to respond to antigens or obnoxious signals. So certain immunosuppressants can be either held or delayed, or dosed around vaccination, such that you give the patient the highest probability to develop an immune response around those medications.”

Dr. Cole Beeler interview

Dr. Beeler hopes others get vaccinated and continue practicing good health measures to protect their neighbors.

“The thing that really hurts for me is seeing a patient who tried to get vaccinated, they had an immunosuppressed condition, and they're around someone, unfortunately, that transmitted it to them silently. And then they have a bad outcome from it by no intention of their own," Dr. Beeler said. "So yes, immunosuppressed patients can take that extra measure of precautions, but at a certain point of time, we need the community to really surround these people and try and take care of them."

In a late July CDC advisory group meeting, data was discussed behind considerations for a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose for those with immunocompromising diseases.

Around 44% of breakthrough COVID-19 cases in the U.S. are thought to be with immunocompromised people. The advisory group also noted studies that show a reduced response in this group of people to the vaccine.

"I suspect that people who have immunosuppressing conditions are probably at risk for not developing as profound an immune response, which is why it's extremely important for those patients not only to get vaccinated, but also to make sure that they've gotten an extra layer of protection after vaccination," Dr. Beeler said. "The vaccine does not take you back to normal. If you're one of those patients, you need to make sure that you're doing everything you can to try to continue to avoid the virus that's in high circulation right now.”

Dr. Beeler says those who are immunocompromised or taking an immunosuppresent should continue masking up, social distancing and washing their hands as the delta variant spreads throughout Indiana.