NKF Urges Kidney Patients to Continue Masking, Social Distancing

Foundation urges CDC to issue guidelines for immune compromised patients and study need for booster vaccines

New York, NY, May 18, 2021 — In light of new CDC masking guidance issued last week indicating that people who are fully vaccinated can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, the National Kidney Foundation urges patients with advanced kidney disease, including transplant and dialysis patients and patients requiring immunosuppression for treatment of kidney disease, to continue masking and practice social distancing, even if they are fully vaccinated.  A new study published in the medical journal JAMA indicates that people with solid organ transplants, like kidney transplants, and others who are immune compromised, such as dialysis patients, may not receive the same level of antibody immunity from the COVID-19 vaccine as other people. The new study indicated that 46% of solid organ transplant patients had no antibody immunity from the vaccine but other patients did have some immunity. The study did not evaluate cell-mediated immunity which is also important for vaccine protection.

“As more of the nation starts to forego mask wearing in public places, people who are immune compromised, such as transplant and dialysis patients, must continue to protect themselves even after vaccination,” said Joseph Vassalotti, MD, Chief Medical Officer, National Kidney Foundation. “While this small and preliminary study indicates that the COVID-19 vaccine appears to be less effective for transplant patients or others who are immune compromised, half of the participants did receive some protection from the vaccine. Kidney patients and members of their households should still get vaccinated. We are still learning about how well vaccines protect kidney patients, so some extra caution during this time is important.” 

In a letter sent today to the CDC, NKF urged that the agency develop new guidelines for immune compromised patients on masking and social distancing even if they are vaccinated. In addition, NKF is urging the CDC to urgently conduct research on the effectiveness of the vaccine in immune compromised patients and to conduct studies to determine if a booster shot may be required to offer more protection from COVID-19.

“Many vaccines do not offer the same protection to immune compromised patients as the general public. Given COVID-19 can be deadly, it’s important that kidney patients get the vaccine while still continuing to protect ourselves until further studies on vaccine efficacy are conducted,” said Kevin Longino, CEO, National Kidney Foundation and a kidney transplant patient. “The vaccine may not be as effective in people like us, but it may still help reduce the severity of the virus including hospitalizations and death.” 

Immune compromised patients who become infected with COVID-19 should seek treatment with antibody therapy right away and not wait for symptoms to develop. 

“If kidney patients become infected with COVID-19 it’s critical to speak with their doctor to  start antibody therapy right away,” added Dr. Vassalotti. “While we’re all ready to get back to normal, until the country has herd or population immunity, patients with advanced kidney disease including transplant and dialysis patients or patients requiring immunosuppression for treatment of their kidney disease should continue masking and social distancing even if you’re fully vaccinated.” 

For more information about COVID-19 and kidney disease, visit kidney.org/covid-19 or call our toll-free helpline, 855-NKF-CARES.

Kidney Disease Facts

In the United States, 37 million adults are estimated to have chronic kidney disease—and approximately 90 percent don’t know they have it.  1 in 3 adults in the U.S. are at risk for chronic kidney disease.  Risk factors for kidney disease include: diabeteshigh blood pressureheart diseaseobesity, and family history. People of Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian American, or Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander descent are at increased risk for developing the disease. Blacks or African Americans are almost 4 times more likely than White Americans to have kidney failure.  Hispanics are 1.3 times more likely than non-Hispanics to have kidney failure.

Approximately 750,000 Americans have irreversible kidney failure and need dialysis or a kidney transplant to survive. More than 500,000 of these patients receive dialysis at least three times per week to replace kidney function. Nearly 100,000 Americans are on the waitlist for a kidney transplant right now.  Depending on where a patient lives, the average wait time for a kidney transplant can be upwards of three to seven years.

About the National Kidney Foundation

The National Kidney Foundation (NKF) is the largest, most comprehensive, and longstanding patient-centric organization dedicated to the awareness, prevention, and treatment of kidney disease in the U.S. For more information about NKF, visit www.kidney.org.