Published on April 22, 2021
Navigating COVID-19 With an Immunocompromised Loved One
When it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, the good news is that medical science moved quickly and collaboratively to develop a set of vaccines to stem the tide of infection that has had the entire world running for cover for more than a year.
Many people are getting vaccinated, and we are beginning to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. Many of us have felt the pain of being unable to physically connect with our loved ones. But, as the circles of those closest to each other get inoculated, most arms can open again without fear of getting each other sick.
But this isn't true for everyone, especially for those of us who have a loved one who is immunocompromised because of an ongoing medical condition or perhaps a past or recent treatment regimen. Our loved ones who are compromised in this way may still have a significant journey ahead to feel safe in a world that is opening up around them. As their care partners, this impacts us as well.
Studies being done now are indicating that a significant percentage of immunocompromised individuals vaccinated for COVID-19 are not developing the specific antibodies that the current vaccines help build and are needed to help protect them from the virus. Other studies are being done to see if different types of antibodies can be prodded into action to fight COVID-19, but those studies will take more time to give clear results and for medical teams to implement them.
So, what do we do in the meantime?
Experts discuss what it means when a COVID-vaccinated cancer patient has a negative antibody test.
My husband, Andrew, has two blood cancers, chronic lymphocytic leukemia and myelofibrosis. He was vaccinated, then participated in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society study to see if he developed antibodies from the vaccine. He did not.
As his care partner, I was vaccinated, and all our extended family and friends are being vaccinated and will soon feel much more comfortable coming out of our bubbles and interacting with each other and with other vaccinated people. The very gray area—and one of great concern—is how we approach the fact that Andrew is unprotected.
As a couple, how can we go about what was our normal life of travel and daily interactions with the general public without continued fear of Andrew getting sick? We cannot.
Frankly, Andrew and I are completely aligned on what happens next, at least in the foreseeable future. Our behavior will not change much at all.
While we both feel comfortable visiting with our fully vaccinated family and close friends, we will continue to wear masks and maintain social distancing when in public places, choosing not to eat or socialize indoors with people outside our expanded bubble, avoiding any public transportation or flights and continuing to wash our hands a lot.
Of course, this is no fun, but the risks for Andrew far outweigh the frustration of this "new normal," at least for the time being. Admittedly, this is a very personal choice, but I wanted to share this with you as one approach based on what we know right now.
So, what is our light at the end of the tunnel? The researchers and clinicians we have spoken to shared that the human immune system is complex and that there may be other ways to protect immunocompromised individuals. Vaccines are not the only option available.
Work is being done now to determine whether antibodies that protect someone from COVID-19 can be given to patients instead of their own immune system producing them. Studies are ongoing to see if other components of the immune system can be “energized” to fight the virus, and the use of monoclonal antibodies, as well as antibody “cocktails,” are being tested.
Andrew receives monthly intravenous immunoglobulin, which is one kind of antibody that protects him from other sorts of illness. This same approach may be one way to get many of our loved ones back to work and allow us to hug our kids, chase our grandkids and enjoy life more fully than we did before the pandemic.
It's going to take a lot of patience and great medical minds to get there, but I really believe it will happen. In the end, all good things are worth waiting for.
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