Even though it may seem like it, the COVID pandemic is not over. The Omicron variant has more mutations than any of the earlier variants making it more successful at evading our immune system and the protection of vaccines. In spite of this serious challenge, vaccines still offer a degree of protection, especially from hospitalization and death. The newer “bivalent vaccine” actually combines a component derived from the Omicron variant and the original vaccine developed two years ago. However, all individuals do not respond to the vaccine equally.
A clinical study led by Dr. Lannard Lee (University of Oxford, London), found that people with cancer, especially blood cancers affecting the immune system (leukemia, lymphoma), were 36 times less likely to generate protective levels of antibodies from COVID vaccinations than in people without cancer. So Immunocompromised individuals may have a disease like cancer that interferes with the effectiveness of the vaccine.
Alternatively, a person can be on a medication that works by suppressing the immune system or inflammation, which could weaken the response to the vaccine.
For example, people may be taking a class of drugs called steroids that suppress the immune system to treat a disease like asthma or rheumatoid arthritis.
Many drugs that treat cancers or inflammatory skin conditions use medication that suppress the immune system. Interestingly, patients with HIV infection, an immunocompromised state, appear to be protected by COVID vaccination, particularly if the HIV virus is controlled by medication.
A special medication was developed to prevent COVID-19 disease in people with immunocompromised conditions; a sort of vaccine substitute. This medication called Evusheld consists of a combination of two monoclonal antibodies (tixagevumab and cilgavimab) against coronavirus.
With a single injection of each medicine, a person would be protected from coronavirus infection for several weeks. While it has been deemed effective for previous variants, unfortunately, Evusheld does not provide protection against developing COVID-19 for individuals who are later exposed to sub-variant XBB.1.5, and possibly other sub-variants of Omicron. So what additional steps can you take to stay healthy?
Take extra precautions
COVID rates are increasing again, especially as people spend more time indoors during the winter months. Large, indoor gatherings should be avoided, or at least, a mask should be worn. Cloth surgical masks do provide some protection but a KN95 or N95 mask provides the best protection.
Masks also protect against other respiratory viruses such as influenza virus (flu vaccines are available) and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), both viruses are causing increased numbers of infections. Try to maintain