Lung transplants are trending upward over the course of the past few years. The onset of the COVID-19 vaccine has caused concern for this population because transplant recipients have a suppressed immune system, placing them at increased risk for severe COVID-19 complications. While vaccinations for both the flu and COVID-19 are safe for transplant recipients, little is known about the effectiveness of vaccinations in this population.
Dr. Marcia Goldberg is about to celebrate her 22nd wedding anniversary with her husband, Alan Grossman, who is a heart transplant recipient. “We were about to sit down to eat dinner one Friday and we realized that we didn’t really know how effective the vaccine would be for him, and what that would mean for us,” Dr. Golberg said.
Like the families of transplant recipients everywhere, they were concerned – but as a researcher, Dr. Goldberg decided to take action. Along with her colleagues Drs. Jacob Lemieux and Amy Li, Dr. Golberg pulled together a small team from Mass General and Harvard to begin a trailblazing study. Thanks to unprecedentedly early support from the American Lung Association through its COVID-19 Action Initiative, they hope to discover what level of protection transplants have once they receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
“Though vaccinations are safe for transplant recipients – whether they are for the flu or COVID-19 – there has not yet been any research on the immune response of vaccination in these individuals. As a result, it is not yet known how effective vaccinations are in protecting their health, even for annual flu vaccinations,” Dr. Goldberg explained. “So, our study will seek to determine how a transplant patient will respond to vaccinations, and if a booster is needed, for example, so that these patients may also benefit from vaccination and be able to safely return to daily activities.”
Alan had a heart transplant in 2006 and is an active advocate for all transplant patients. “I very much look forward to the findings, and hope that this opens the door to a better understanding of the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccination for transplant recipients who are immunocompromised,” Alan said. “I also encourage everyone to get vaccinated, including transplant recipients. Even though we don’t yet know how effective the vaccines are, we know they are safe and offer some level of protection.”
In 2020, the first double-lung transplant for a COVID-19 patient was performed. “As a respiratory virus, many patients have had severe impact on their lungs. Knowing that we may see an increase in lung transplants as a result of the pandemic, we should be prepared to ensure that transplant recipients are able to fully benefit from vaccinations,” said American Lung Association President and CEO Harold Wimmer.
“We are proud to fund important research studies that will save lives and improve lung health, and eagerly await the findings of this trailblazing study, and what it might mean for transplant patients everywhere.”
As the nation’s longest standing public health organization, the Lung Association funded $2.4 million in lung disease research during fiscal year 2020, including 12 grants focused to COVID-19 research. “We are absolutely thrilled to have the support of the American Lung Association,” said Dr. Goldberg. “We took on this project without any funding at all, and with the quick and early funding support from the Lung Association we are able buy supplies for the actual analysis, enabling us to move swiftly with the hope that transplant recipients may safely benefit from vaccination.”
Blog last updated: April 23, 2021