Taken from Kaiser Health News
February 22, 2022
Iesha White is so fed up with the U.S. response to covid-19 that she’s seriously considering moving to Europe.
“I’m that disgusted. The lack of care for each other, to me, it’s too much,” said White, 30, of Los Angeles. She has multiple sclerosis and takes a medicine that suppresses her immune system. “As a Black disabled person, I feel like nobody gives a [expletive] about me or my safety.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a strict definition of who is considered moderately or severely immunocompromised, such as cancer patients undergoing active treatment and organ transplant recipients. Still, millions of other people are living with chronic illnesses or disabilities that also make them especially susceptible to the disease. Though vulnerability differs based on each person and their health condition — and can depend on circumstances — catching covid is a risk they cannot take.
As a result, these Americans who are at high risk — and the loved ones who fear passing along the virus to them — are speaking out about being left behind as the rest of society drops pandemic safeguards such as masking and physical distancing.
Their fears were amplified this month as several Democratic governors, including the leaders of California and New York — places that were out front in implementing mask mandates early on — moved to lift such safety requirements. To many people, the step signaled that “normal” life was returning. But for people considered immunocompromised or who face high risks from covid because of other conditions, it upped the level of anxiety.
“I know my normal is never going to be normal,” said Chris Neblett, 44, of Indiana, Pennsylvania, a kidney transplant recipient who takes immunosuppressive drugs to prevent his body from rejecting his transplanted organ. “I’m still going to be wearing a mask in public. I’m still probably going to go to the grocery store late at night or early in the morning to avoid other people.”
He is especially concerned because his wife and young daughter recently tested positive for covid.
Even though he’s fully vaccinated, he’s not sure he is protected from the virus’s worst outcomes. Neblett participates in a Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine study tracking transplant recipients’ immune response to the vaccine, so he knows his body produced only a low amount of antibodies after the third dose and is waiting on the results of the fourth. For now, he’s isolating himself from his wife and two kids for 10 days by staying in his second garage.
“I told my wife when covid first happened, ‘I have to make it to the vaccine,’” he said. But learning the vaccine hasn’t triggered an adequate immune-system response so far is crushing. “Your world really changes. You start wondering, ‘Am I going to be a statistic? Am I going to be a number to people that don’t seem to care?’”
Scientists estimate that almost 3% of Americans meet the strict definition of having weakened immune systems, but researchers acknowledge that many more chronically ill and disabled Americans could be severely affected if they catch covid.
By summer 2021, scientific evidence indicated that immunocompromised people would likely benefit from a third shot, but it took federal agencies time to update their guidance. Even then, only certain groups of immunocompromised people were eligible, leaving others out.
In October, the CDC again quietly revised its vaccine guidance to allow immunocompromised people to receive a fourth covid vaccine dose, though a recent KHN story revealed that pharmacists unaware of this change were still turning away eligible people in January.