The most vulnerable are still at risk despite COVID precautions being taken to make it easier

Jackie Hansen remained home for only doctor visits two years after the pandemic, her immune system so damaged by cancer and lupus that COVID-19 vaccines were unable to take root.

The most vulnerable are still at risk despite COVID precautions being taken to make it easier

Hansen was granted a reprieve by receiving very small doses of the first drug, which promises protection for six months to people who have no other options.

Hansen, who received injections of Evusheld in a University of Pittsburgh medical center clinic, said that it was a "shot of life". Hansen can't wait "to hug my grandkids with no fear"

In the country's wobbly attempts to get back on track, up to 7 million Americans with compromised immune systems have been left behind. An immune system that is weak can't fight the virus like a healthy one after vaccination. These patients are at risk of serious illness and death due to COVID-19. They can also be susceptible to long-term infections that could lead to more variants.

As the omicron wave recedes, more people are abandoning masks and other precautions to protect themselves.
This is "quickly transitioning to an epidemic of vulnerable," Dr. Jacob Lemieux at Massachusetts General Hospital, said. Although healthy people who have been vaccinated may be able to return to their pre-pandemic activities without worrying about serious consequences, the immunocompromised, even if they were vaccinated, are not able to and will remain at risk.

He said, "We're going have to navigate it as a society. It's going be a really difficult social conversation."

In spite of all the talk about the omicron being more severe for some people, the most contagious variant has shown how immune-compromised individuals need to have stronger defenses.

"The pandemic is not over," Dr. Ghady Haidar, an infectious diseases specialist at UPMC said. Patients hospitalized with severe COVID-19 in the last month were a mixture of the immuno-compromised as well as the unvaccinated.

Hansen, a former nurse, had to have difficult conversations about why she couldn't be around people who aren't vaccinated.

Hansen, who almost died of the flu shortly before it became a pandemic, said that other people's actions can really impact and jeopardize my life.

Hansen stated that "we're all tired" of wearing masks and wanted to get rid of them. Hansen said that while most people find it annoying to wear a mask to go grocery shopping, she has had to fight to schedule her cancer treatment during COVID-19 surges.

As community-wide COVID-19 precautions decrease, there aren't many options available for those with compromised immune systems. Since some patients are protected from repeated vaccinations, health authorities are pushing for a fourth dose of vaccines. The U.S. recommends that all patients with compromised immune systems receive three doses of Moderna or Pfizer vaccines. A booster is required to give the patient one more shot.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is also looking at whether the immune-compromised may need their booster sooner than they had their last shot, which would be three months rather than five.

Many patients anxiously await AstraZeneca’s Evusheld, which is the first set of antibodies that has been grown in a laboratory to prevent COVID-19. This will be used instead of treating it. Evusheld has two types of antibodies that are given at the same time and will last six months.

Problem is: There aren't enough. A federal database indicates that nearly 500,000 of the 1.2 Million doses purchased by the government have been distributed. An AstraZeneca spokesperson stated that the remainder should arrive before April.

Many hospitals didn't have enough to treat everyone who was immune-compromised so they used a lottery system. No one knows when the next dose will be needed.

Evusheld reduced the chance of COVID-19 infections by 77%, according to a study. However, this was before the omicron.

Although it's not perfect, one recipient of an organ transplant credits his Evusheld dosage with keeping him from getting seriously ill.

Ray Hoffman was nervous just getting to the Evusheld appointment in Seattle at University of Washington. It is over an hour drive from his home. After recent liver and kidney transplants, Hoffman takes strong immuno-suppressing medications and doesn't leave his house without it. However, he ended up being accosted by a coughing but masked cab driver. Hoffman was diagnosed with mild COVID-19 the next day. His worried doctors advised him that the protective antibody injections had likely helped.

He said, "I'm just really glad that, fortunately, for me, it only took a few days of feeling pretty terrible and then that was it."

Haidar, UPMC, said that Evusheld will help weak patients avoid a serious infection as long as it is safe. "I am cautiously optimistic."

Hansen, a suburban Pittsburgh patient, is aware that she cannot let her guard down completely, but Evusheld has helped to ease her crippling fear.

She said, "Maybe I could go out for lunch. Maybe my husband and me can go to do something rather than just sitting here." This drug must be made available more often. Although it is a huge victory for me, I can't celebrate until everyone else who has been compromised receives it.

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