Study: COVID-19 vaccines protect adults on dialysis against infection, severe disease

Study: COVID-19 vaccines protect adults on dialysis against infection, severe disease
COVID-19 vaccination reduces virus-related risks in people in dialysis, according to a new study. Photo by Anna Frodesiak/Wikimedia Commons

March 9 (UPI) -- Adults on dialysis who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 are 69% less likely to get infected than those who receive the treatment for failing kidneys but are unvaccinated, a study published Wednesday by the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology found.

They also have an 83% lower risk for developing severe illness from the virus compared with unvaccinated people on dialysis, the data showed.


People in the study were considered fully vaccinated if they had received both doses of two-shot Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech products.

There were no significant differences in vaccine effectiveness among age groups, type of dialysis or vaccine, researchers said.

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"Governments and health care providers prioritized patients on maintenance dialysis for early COVID-19 vaccination in many countries, including the U.S and Canada. This strategy was correct," study co-author Dr. Matthew Oliver said in a press release.

"The effectiveness of the vaccines was less than that seen in studies in the general population but still provided substantial protection," said Oliver, medical director of nephrology at the Sunnybrook Health Science Center in Toronto.

Multiple studies have shown that individuals with kidney failure who are undergoing dialysis have a weaker immune response following COVID-19 vaccination than others.


Before the availability of vaccines against the virus, approximately two-thirds of those on dialysis who became infected were hospitalized and one in four died as a result, Oliver said.

Nearly 600,000 people in the United States are on dialysis, which helps failing kidneys perform their normal functions, including filtering waste and excess fluid from the blood, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

For this study, Oliver and his colleagues analyzed health records for nearly 14,000 people on maintenance dialysis between Dec. 21, 2020 and June 30, 2021.

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Of these, 17% were unvaccinated and 83% had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccines from Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech, which have similar formulations, the researchers said.

The study population included people receiving both home dialysis and in-center hemodialysis.

Among the included patients, there were 663 coronavirus infections, 323 hospitalizations and 94 deaths, the data showed.

Compared with those who were unvaccinated, people who had received one COVID-19 vaccine dose were 41% less likely to become infected and 46% less likely to develop severe symptoms that required hospitalization or resulted in death.

The risk for hospitalization in the unvaccinated group was 52%, while the risk for death from the virus was 16%.


Conversely, among the fully vaccinated, the risk for hospitalization was 30% and the risk for death was 10%.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all adults and teenagers, particularly those who are immunocompromised, including those on dialysis, get a third -- or booster -- dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to ensure optimal immune response.

"Patients on maintenance dialysis often have suppressed immune systems and many are unable to isolate because they must attend dialysis treatments," Oliver said.

"Reducing hospitalizations and deaths is very important in this population," he said.

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