Kidney Disease and Dialysis Patients: Here's What You Need to Know About the COVID-19 Vaccine

As Texas recently became the first state to vaccinate more than 1 million people, we’re sure many of our patients have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine and its safety for those with kidney problems. 

Here at Houston Kidney Specialists Center, with four locations throughout Houston and Cypress, Texas, we recommend the COVID-19 vaccine to all our patients.

However, we understand that many people — including kidney patients — have questions about the vaccine. That’s why we’ve prepared this guide on the COVID-19 vaccine to help kidney disease and dialysis patients make an informed decision. 

COVID-19 risks for kidney patients 

Having a pre-existing medical condition, such as kidney disease, increases your risk of developing complications from COVID-19. Some studies even suggest that chronic kidney disease is a larger risk factor for COVID-19 mortality than heart and lung disease. 

If you have kidney disease, your overall risk depends on a number of factors. For example, if you have end-stage renal disease (ESRD), are on dialysis, or have a kidney transplant, you have a higher risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19 compared to other kidney disease patients. 

End-stage renal disease

End-stage renal disease refers to when your kidneys no longer meet your body’s needs and you need regular dialysis treatments to survive. People with ESRD are at a greater risk of developing life-threatening infections, and research has shown that this is true with COVID-19 infections as well. 

Dialysis patients

If you're a dialysis patient, you have a higher risk of developing severe complications due to COVID-19. If you attend an in-person dialysis clinic, there may be an increased risk of exposure at your clinic. 

Here at Houston Kidney Specialists Center, we follow strict guidelines to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmissions during dialysis treatments. 

Kidney transplant 

After a kidney transplant, it takes a while for your body to recover from the surgery. Additionally, the immunosuppressant medication used to reduce the risk of transplant rejection may lead to reduced immune protection against COVID-19. 

COVID-19 vaccines

Considering the increased COVID-19 risks to kidney disease patients, getting as many people as possible vaccinated is important. Currently, the vaccines approved for use in the United States are the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and the Moderna vaccine. Both vaccines are highly effective, with reported rates of 95% for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and 94.5% for the Moderna vaccine. 

mRNA vaccines

These vaccines use a new technology based on mRNA (messenger RNA). Your cells use this mRNA to create a version of the spike protein from the COVID-19 virus, effectively teaching your immune system what COVID-19 looks like and how to build an immune response to it. 

Previously, most vaccines used a dead or inactivated form of a pathogen in order to build an immune response. These mRNA vaccines do not contain any part of the COVID-19 virus, so it’s impossible for it to cause an illness. 

Vaccine safety

You might also be wondering how safe the current vaccines are for patients with kidney concerns. Overall, both vaccines have been demonstrated to be safe in large clinical trials. 

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was tested in studies of more than 43,000 participants, and the Moderna vaccine was tested in more than 30,000 participants. Both vaccines are now approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). 

While the clinical trials didn’t explicitly include patients with chronic kidney disease, they did include participants with similar health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, asthma, and HIV. 

Additionally, you will be monitored for a brief period after your vaccination to ensure that you don’t experience an allergic reaction or another adverse experience. Vaccinators are trained in dealing with allergic reactions and other adverse experiences, and they report all incidents to the CDC’s Vaccine Safety Monitoring database. 

Due to the rigorous safety testing of these vaccines, Houston Kidney Specialists Center recommends the vaccine for all patients who are eligible. Other organizations that recommend the vaccine include the National Kidney Foundation, the American Kidney Fund, and the American Society of Transplantation. 

However, we understand that the decision to vaccinate may be challenging or confusing. If you have any questions, our team will be happy to discuss them with you. To learn more, call Houston Kidney Specialists Center at 281-429-8780 or book an appointment online.

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