COVID-19 and kidney patients: What you need to know

Learn what you can do to protect yourself from coronavirus if you have kidney disease, are on dialysis or have had a transplant.
Medically reviewed by
AKF's Medical Advisory Committee
Last updated
December 19, 2022

COVID-19 vaccine FAQs

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently gave emergency permission for a vaccine for COVID-19. Here are answers to some common questions people who have kidney disease or those living with a kidney transplant may have about the COVID-19 vaccine.

How to stay safe

Here is what the CDC recommends:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer. (Sing "Happy Birthday" to yourself twice while washing your hands — that will ensure you have washed them long enough.)
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Stay at least six feet away from anyone who has respiratory symptoms such as a cough or sneezing.
  • Stay home if you feel sick or have cold-like or flu-like symptoms, including a fever, cough, sore throat, headache or body aches.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw used tissues into the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect any objects and surfaces that you touch frequently.

The American Kidney Fund (AKF) will be sure to keep you informed as we receive any new information or advice for patients. Most importantly, do not panic and do not hesitate to ask others to help you with transportation, groceries or other things you need help with. Communities are coming together, as they do during a crisis, and there are helpers. Take advantage of that.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) updates its Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) page regularly. It is a reliable source of the most current information and you can check regularly for the latest updates.

How to get financial assistance

If you are a dialysis or transplant patient, ask your social worker or transplant coordinator about whether you qualify for an AKF emergency grant. You can also apply on your own behalf by visiting and filling out a profile in AKF's grants management system. If you are already receiving AKF financial assistance, you may use your existing AKF grants management system profile to apply.

Assistance for medications

Medication assistance programs are offered by pharmaceutical companies to help provide free or lower-cost medications to people who cannot afford them. To learn what is available, visit PhRMA's Medicine Assistance Tool (MAT), a search engine designed to help patients, caregivers and health care providers learn more about the resources available through the various biopharmaceutical industry programs.

Keep going to treatment

This is the most important piece of advice for dialysis patients because missing even one treatment can be very harmful to your health — and if your health deteriorates, it puts you at even higher risk for serious illness. Put your treatment schedule at the top of your priorities.

Be in constant communication with your dialysis center

Centers are adapting to guidance from the CDC that sometimes changes by the hour. Some centers are limiting visitors. Others are having patients wait in their cars instead of the waiting room to keep patients at a distance from each other. Your center's response to this emergency may change from day to day. Be sure you are informed.

Understand the safety precautions at your dialysis center

If you are on dialysis, your other health conditions may put you at a higher risk of becoming seriously sick from COVID-19. Your dialysis center's priority is keeping you and other patients safe. Dialysis center staffers are prepared to identify patients who may have coronavirus and get them the care they need while minimizing potential exposure to other patients.

If you are concerned or want to learn more about the precautions they have in place, ask your dialysis center staff:

  • What are you doing to keep the center clean and maintain social distancing?
  • Can I wait in my car instead of in the waiting room?
  • What should I do if I have any flu-like symptoms?
  • Can you provide a mask for me to wear during my treatment?
  • What procedures do you have in place if you think a patient at the center may have COVID-19?
  • How will you inform patients of any emergency information?
  • Where will I get dialysis if I get sick?

Be in constant communication with your dialysis center. Centers are adapting to guidance from the CDC that sometimes changes by the hour. Some centers are limiting accompanying visitors. Others are having patients wait in their cars instead of the waiting room to keep patients at a distance from each other. Your center's response to this emergency may change from day to day. Be sure you stay informed.

Know the signs of COVID-19 infection

COrona VIrus Disease 2019, commonly known as COVID-19, is the illness caused by coronavirus. Symptoms can appear two to 14 days after you are exposed to the coronavirus. If you experience any of the symptoms, be honest and report it to your center. They will advise you about getting treatment, either at the center or at a hospital. The early symptoms of COVID-19 include a fever, a cough or shortness of breath. If you have any of these symptoms, let your center know and take their advice. Do not show up at the center without talking to them first if you have symptoms. Use the CDC's self-checker tool to help you make decisions and seek medical care.

Keep a supply of medicines and foods

Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about getting more of the medicines you take so that you can limit your trips to the pharmacy. Make sure that you have plenty of kidney-friendly foods available at home so that you stick to your food and fluid plan. Just in case you are unable to go to a dialysis treatment, be sure you have what you need for the KCER 3-Day Emergency Diet Plan for dialysis patients just in case .

AKF's kidney-friendly eating website, Kidney Kitchen™, has a sample grocery shopping list you can use to help you stock your pantry, freezer and refrigerator with healthy options. You will also find more than 200 kidney-friendly recipes to choose from. Check out the new pantry recipe collection for inspiration.

Kidney Transplants and COVID-19

Special considerations for transplant recipients

Because transplant recipients take immunosuppressive drugs, they are at higher risk of infection from viruses such as cold or flu. To limit the possibility of being exposed to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, you should follow the CDC's tips to avoid catching or spreading germs and contact your health care provider if you develop cold or flu-like symptoms.

By being informed and taking your own personal precautions, you can help reduce your risk of coming into contact with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

View which transplant centers are open.

The National Kidney Registry has a list of the leading transplant centers. It also tracks whether they are currently performing transplants or have decided to postpone transplants until a later date. Call your transplant center or check their website for the latest updates.

Additional resources:

Consider a telehealth appointment

If you are a dialysis patient, your next appointment with your social worker, dietitian or doctor may take place as a video call or by telephone. Being able to stay home and meet virtually with your dialysis care team can limit your potential exposure to the virus and keep you from getting sick.

Find out how you can help kidney patients

Make an urgent donation to help vulnerable kidney patients. AKF is providing critically needed financial assistance to low-income dialysis and transplant patients who are facing unexpected expenses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. These grants can be used to pay for food, transportation and medications.

See how AKF is fighting for patients through advocacy.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resources

Get answers to frequently asked questions about the COVID-19 vaccine and kidney disease.

Watch the Ask a Nephrologist about COVID-19 webinar to learn more about how the disease affects kidney patients.