Here is one more article in our series on the those who are vaccinated and still vulnerable such as this one from Dr. Lindsay Ryan.
In this case the patient, Michele Nadeem-Baker, like Dr. Ryan, is acutely aware of her ongoing risk and through her efforts to make her story public, is getting the word out about the continued vulnerability of immunocompromised patients in general, and as in her case, those with CLL in particular.
Michele has chronic lymphocytic leukemia and is a cancer patient advocate that I have been lucky to work with on a number of CLL related education projects. Similar to other savvy blood cancer patients, she asked to be tested for coronavirus antibodies post vaccination. Like many with CLL, her results were disappointing. Though she did form some disease-fighting antibodies, her doctors told her she needed to continue taking precautions if she didn’t, because they couldn’t confidently interpret her score.
That is in fact, better than the more common story of finding no rise at all in the anti-spike (S) antibodies after being vaccinated.
We don’t know whether or not there is some degree of immunity conferred from a low level of antibodies or whether a protective T cell response may have been triggered by the vaccine. T cell responses to COVID vaccines are difficult to measure outside of a clinical trial. Fortunately, several researchers are now actively studying the T cell response in blood cancer patients.
Until we have more data, the safest assumption is, as Michele’s doctors advised and the CLL Society echoes in this admonition, to assume that one is not protected.
Whether to test for antibody response to the vaccine is more opinion driven than data driven at this time. You can read more in our OPINION section with commentaries by Drs. Byrd, Skarbnik, and Kay. CLL Society encourages you to strongly consider being tested and then to discuss the results with your doctors. Just be prepared to be frustrated by the lack of clarity and or even any agreement as to on what the results practically mean for a CLL patient.
To learn more about Michele Nadeem-Baker’s story and ongoing research by LLS, please read this Bloomberg article.
Stay strong. We are all in this together.
Brian Koffman MDCM (retired) MS Ed
Co-Founder, Executive VP and Chief Medical Officer
CLL Society, Inc.