Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine if I have an autoimmune disease?

Is the COVID-19 vaccine right for autoimmune disease patients?
The COVID-19 vaccine is expected to roll out to members of the public in early 2021. Image courtesy of the BBC.

As the COVID-19 vaccine rolls out across the nation, many members of the public are wondering if getting vaccinated against the coronavirus is right for them. More specifically, those with autoimmune disorders, a disease class in which one’s own immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own tissues, wonder if they are candidates for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Dr. Shafinaz Akhter, Physician at Chester County Hospital in Philadelphia, PA, states, “Our advice has always been that there is no harm to getting it. It is very unlikely that you’re going to have an adverse reaction or worsening symptoms from your underlying disease based upon receiving the vaccination.” For this reason, she says that at her hospital, they are recommending that anyone with an autoimmune disease, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or Crohn’s, get vaccinated.

Furthermore, Dr. Akhter adds that many autoimmune disease patients take immunosuppressants or other immune-modulating prescription drugs, which are medications designed to decrease immune system overactivity and the damaging inflammation that comes along with it. These medications may reduce the vaccine’s ability to stimulate your body to mount an immune response against the virus. For this reason, it’s important to speak with your healthcare provider regarding the timing of when you take your medications and when you receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Examples of such medications include methotrexate or rituximab.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, weighed in on the subject, stating, “It is clear that if you are on immunosuppressant agents, history tells us that you are not going to have as robust a response as if you had an intact immune system that was not being compromised. But some degree of immunity is better than no degree of immunity. So, for me, it would be recommended that these people do get vaccinated.”

The CDC, for its part, has stated that those with autoimmune conditions may receive the COVID-19 vaccine, while also acknowledging that no data currently exists with regards to the safety of these vaccines for autoimmune disease patients. 

The CDC adds that it is expected that the risk of the COVID vaccine for autoimmune disease patients to be minimal, based on the vaccine’s mechanism of action. This is because none of the COVID vaccines use a live virus, nor do they include an adjuvant, which is a substance that enhances the body’s immune response to an antigen. Finally, none of the available vaccines become incorporated in your own genetic material (i.e. DNA), since they are mRNA vaccines.

As with any new medical treatment, it’s encouraged to speak with your healthcare provider before making a decision on whether or not to get the vaccine, so that they can advise you based on your specific situation. To learn more about the COVID-19 vaccines, visit the CDC website.

Are you planning to get the COVID-19 vaccine? Let us know in the comments below!

Christopher Cross Nearly Dies from COVID-19, Temporarily Paralyzed by Autoimmune Disease

Famed singer-songwriter Christopher Cross recently detailed his excruciating battle with COVID-19 in an exclusive interview with CBS.

In the interview, the 69-year-old Grammy winner described his ordeal as ‘the worst 10 days of [his] life,’ saying that he had a number of ‘come to Jesus moments’ where he was left begging for his life from a higher power.

Cross states that in early March, when the pandemic had just struck North America, he and his girlfriend Joy were touring in Mexico City for a concert. Upon their return to the United States, they fell ill and ended up testing positive for COVID-19.

“Nobody knew about masks, or anything like that,” Cross said. “No one wore masks on the plane, no one was doing that. We weren’t made aware that it was a problem.” In total, he and his girlfriend were sick for about three weeks’ time. While Joy continued to get better, Cross got continuously sicker, landing him in the intensive care unit at the hospital for 10 days.

In April, Cross says he finally began to feel better, and ended up going to the supermarket. However, when he returned home, his legs completely gave out. That’s when he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), a neurological autoimmune disease which causes the body to attack its own nerves. His doctors believe that he developed Guillain-Barre Syndrome as a direct result of COVID-19.

Describing his COVID-19 and Guillain-Barre diagnosis, Cross says tearfully, “I couldn’t walk, I could barely move. And so, it was certainly the darkest of times for me…It really was touch-and-go, and tough.” He became paralyzed from the waist down, and his hands were paralytic as well; being a professional musician, he was concerned he would never be able to play the guitar again.

Guillain-Barre is one of many devastating effects that have been reported by COVID-19 survivors. Early in the pandemic, disturbing reports came out about multisystem inflammatory syndrome, an autoimmune complication in children who had been affected by the virus. It is thought to be similar to Kawasaki disease, an inflammatory condition affecting the heart’s coronary arteries.

Though Cross himself was only temporarily paralyzed by Guillain-Barre, he reports that he is still feeling the impact of this neurological autoimmune disease now. Initially, he used a wheelchair, and though he no longer needs it, he now relies on a cane as his mobility aid. He also suffers from nerve pain, brain fog, memory loss and issues with his speech.

Christopher Cross undergoes physical therapy to heal from the affects of Guillain-Barre and COVID-19.

Last month, Cross shared further details on his Instagram page about his grueling recovery, and paid tribute to the medical staff that helped him during that harrowing time, saying, “I’m grateful for my care team, especially my physical therapist, who has helped me to build strength and walk again.” He continued, “I realize that I am lucky to have survived COVID-19 and be on the mend from GBS. Most of all, I am blessed to have the love and support of many people.”

Though he’s recovered from the coronavirus, and has a 90% to 100% prognosis of making a full recovery from Guillain-Barre, Cross explained that he still wants to share his story to help others. “I felt it was sort of my obligation to share with people: ‘Look, this is a big deal…you’ve got to wear your mask. You’ve got to take care of each other. Because this could happen to you.'”

As part of his healing, Cross is turning to his music, which has always been a source of solace for the singer-songwriter. And, he can’t wait to get back to touring…when it’s safe to do so, of course!

Autoimmune Patient Becomes First Double-Lung Transplant Recipient after Surviving COVID-19

Mayra Ramirez is the first known patient in the US to receive a double lung transplant after surviving COVID-19

Mayra Ramirez, a 28-year-old paralegal, had always been relatively healthy, enjoying going for runs around her Chicago neighborhood. She had neuromyelitis optica (NMO), an autoimmune disease that affects the spinal cord and nerves of the eyes. Other than this diagnosis, however, she was in good health and took extra precautions when COVID-19 hit Illinois.

Mayra Ramirez, a 28-year-old paralegal and autoimmune patient, contracted COVID-19 despite taking precautions

In March, she began working from home and rarely left home. But in April, Ramirez says she began to experience symptoms of fatigue, chronic spasms, diarrhea, and loss of taste and smell, in addition to a slight fever. So she contacted her doctor, who recommended that she monitor her symptoms from home, and keep in touch with a COVID-19 hotline.

Unfortunately, in late April, Ramirez started to feel “really bad” and ended up going to the ER at Northwestern Memorial Hospital where she was put on a ventilator. From that moment on, she says “everything was a blur”.

Ramirez spent the next six weeks in the COVID ICU, on both a ventilator and ECMO, a technique of providing prolonged cardiac and respiratory support to patients whose heart and lungs cannot support themselves. By early June, her lungs showed irreversible damage and the hospital’s medical team said that it was clear that only a double-lung transplant could save her.

Mayra Ramirez’s lungs suffered irreversible damage from COVID-19 (pictured here is one of her lungs)

“Once Mayra’s body cleared the virus, it became obvious that the lung damage wasn’t going to heal, and we needed to list her for a lung transplant,” said Beth Malsin, MD, a Pulmonary and Critical Care Specialist with the hospital.

So on June 5th, Ramirez underwent the life-saving double lunch transplant procedure, making her the first known patient in the US to receive such a transplant after surviving COVID-19. She was discharged from the hospital on July 8th, but has continued to receive occupational and physical therapy after the procedure.

Mayra Ramirez received a double-lung transplant after experiencing severe lung damage due to COVID-19

Ankit Bharat, MD, Surgical Director of the Northwestern Medicine Lung Transplant Program, stated “When we opened Mayra’s chest cavity, large parts of her lungs were necrotic and filled with infection. The severe damage and inflammation to the lungs had caused pressure overload on the heart which further made the surgery quite complex…Nevertheless, the success of [the transplant] emphasizes that surgical innovation can also play an important role in helping some critically ill COVID-19 patients.”

Mayra Ramirez stands alongside Dr. Bharat and Dr. Tomic, two of the medical professionals from Northwestern Medicine who aided her in the fight against COVID-19

When asked about her experience with COVID-19, and what she would want others to know about the disease, Ramirez says, “People need to understand that COVID-19 is real. What happened to me can happen to you. So please, wear a mask and wash your hands. If not for you, then do it for others.”

To learn more about Mayra’s story and her experience as an autoimmune patient with coronavirus, please visit the Northwestern Medicine website.

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