It’s not just about you: Get vaccinated for those of us who can’t develop antibodies

We are still living in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and sometimes I have to remind myself and others around me of this fact. The pandemic is long from over for those who are immunocompromised, including kidney transplant recipients like myself. I am currently living with my second kidney transplant.

In March 2020—when none of us knew we would still be in the middle of a public health crisis nearly a year and a half later— I wrote a guest blog post for the American Kidney Fund about the importance of social distancing for me and my community. We didn’t know much about the coronavirus then, but we did know that it was affecting immunocompromised people in serious ways. More than a year later, my message still resonates—taking precautions and following safety recommendations is not just about you, especially if you are not one of the 230,000 Americans living with a kidney transplant who must take medicines to suppress our immune systems, so our bodies do not reject our new kidneys and send us back to dialysis.

Since I wrote my last post, about half of the American population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19—but that is not nearly enough. So, I am here again to remind those who are hesitant or refusing to get the vaccine that it’s not just about you. Please get vaccinated for the rest of us—those who are immunocompromised like me and those who would like to get vaccinated but cannot, either because they have health conditions that prevent them from doing so or because they live in areas without as much access to the shots as others. I am lucky to have been fully vaccinated, but research is showing that my immunocompromised body might not have built up antibodies to fight COVID-19, leaving me in a very vulnerable situation. I am once more relying on the general public to think about others, and not just themselves, by getting a vaccine that can save lives—my life.

As things begin to reopen and more and more people are resuming normal life, I am reminded that my body is not like others. I know that I have to trust myself, be safe and unapologetically ask the question, “Are you vaccinated?” when I am unsure of someone’s status. And, when I don't feel safe, I wear a mask to protect myself and others who may be in the same boat as me. I know this is my new normal—but does it have to be this way?

I put my life on hold while waiting for my kidney transplant—not once, but twice—and I don’t want to do that again. I don’t want to live in fear of a virus, knowing that available vaccines are the best way to help eliminate the spread of it. In the past, I have generally believed that people will do what’s best for society, but now with the rising opposition to the COVID-19 vaccine, I don’t know that’s true anymore. I am having to learn to navigate my life in a way I didn’t think I’d ever have to.

My transplant journey has made me resilient. It helped me get through this past year and a half, and I hope this virus does not get in the way of that. I hope that if you are a transplant recipient reading this that you know and realize your kidney journey makes you stronger and more adept at enduring hardships. You've got this!

I also hope that if you are on the fence about the vaccine or are refusing to get vaccinated and are reading this that you think about the good you could do for the rest of us by getting your shot.

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About the Author(s)

Alysia Yamasaki

Alysia Yamasaki is an AKF Ambassador in Oregon and a two-time kidney transplant recipient.

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