Can stem cell therapy patients take the COVID vaccine?

The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc globally in the last year and a half, and the vaccination drive has come as a relief to the population. India is steadily progressing towards immunising the entire eligible population in a stage-wise manner, considering the huge population of the country.

Currently, India has two major vaccinations approved for emergency use — a recombinant viral vector (Covishield, Serum Institute of India/AstraZeneca) and an inactivated virus (Covaxin, Bharat Biotech), with other candidates in the pipeline. The Health Ministry has issued guidelines regarding eligibility for the vaccination — providing a broad list of systemic conditions, wherein the patients can safely take the vaccination. In other unlisted conditions, it is advisable that the patients consult with their healthcare provider, who can then advice the vaccination based on the current health status and by modifying medications (if required).

Patients with systemic conditions, especially long-standing cases, are generally considered to be at high risk of contracting the COVID-19 infection and associated mortality, due to the pre-existing disease burden.

Stem cell therapies are indicated for patients with several health conditions, wherein treatments need to target the immune system dysfunction, reduce systemic inflammation, etc., to increase the probability of survival and improve the quality of life.

The Health Ministry has clearly indicated that recipients or those on the wait-list for stem cell therapies can take the vaccination. “The rationale for this is that the benefits of vaccination in such high-risk individuals outweigh the potential risks owing to the general immunosuppressive state that can predispose them to additional infections,” said Dr Pradeep Mahajan, regenerative medicine researcher, StemRx Bioscience Solutions Pvt. Ltd., Navi Mumbai.

Here’s what to keep in mind. (Source: Getty Images/Thinkstock)

However, for the same reason of being in an immunosuppressive state (especially in the post-transplant period), it is important for patients to stay in contact with their healthcare providers after vaccination to monitor any adverse events, he mentioned.

“Furthermore, care should be taken during the interval period between the two doses of the vaccination and for few weeks after the second dose, when the immune system is responding to the vaccination. This period may increase the susceptibility of such patients to opportunistic infections or COVID-19 itself,” Dr Mahajan said.

Nonetheless, the manufacturers and the ministry have not issued any serious warning or precautions for such patients, and the vaccinations do not predispose stem cell therapy patients to adverse events or deterioration of their condition, he added.

“Thus, there is no need for stem cell therapy patients to fear the after-effects of the vaccination. Close monitoring of overall health along with positive lifestyle and dietary modifications, continuing medications as prescribed, and following the healthcare provider’s advice will enable such patients to acquire immunity against COVID-19 following vaccination, which should be the priority considering the current situation,” he suggested.

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