Following significant interest from kidney patients and families, Kidney Wales has made grant awards towards two research studies that will discover how effective the Covid-19 vaccines are for dialysis and transplant patients.
Researchers from the Cardiff Transplant Unit and the Immunology Department were already leading a clinical evaluation project looking into the antibody response of transplant patients to the Covid vaccines. With support from Kidney Wales, this has now progressed to become the largest study of its kind in the UK looking into transplant patients.
This first study backed by Kidney Wales, is a collaboration between active research clinicians working in the Cardiff Transplant Unit, the Wales Kidney Research Unit and Cardiff University. The study will look in detail at the immune response (in other words the defence that is developed by the body) to the vaccination amongst transplant patients (who take different immunosuppression drugs) and among haemodialysis patients. Over 800 transplant patients are already taking part in the clinical evaluation and over 100 dialysis patients have provided blood samples to a tissue bank that will be accessed by the study group.
For the second study, Kidney Wales has joined forces with Kidney Research UK and the National Kidney Federation to co-fund research led by Imperial College London and the Francis Crick Institute, to investigate how people on haemodialysis respond to the vaccines. This will include additional analyses of samples from haemodialysis patients who are involved in the first research study (above), led by the Cardiff Transplant Unit.
The research teams are taking blood samples from patients before and after they received their first vaccine and will continue taking samples following the second vaccine dose and at different time points thereafter. This will show the level of response to the vaccine over time.
What do we know so far about the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines amongst kidney patients?
Covid-19 vaccines are being rolled out across the world in the fight against the virus. Although the vaccines have been tested on many people in clinical trials, these trials didn’t specifically include people with kidney disease.
Emerging evidence shows that having chronic kidney disease (CKD) at any stage significantly increases the risk of severe illness from Covid-19, with particular vulnerability for transplant and dialysis patients. It is therefore imperative that the kidney community intervenes to reduce the threat of Covid-19 to our group of patients.
Judith Stone, Managing Director of Kidney Wales commented: “Vaccines are the best way to protect kidney patients, but we don’t yet know how effective they are or for how long. The answers to these questions are fundamental to building the roadmap out of lockdown for kidney patients. I am thrilled that Kidney Wales is able to tangibly support both studies and hope that patients and families will get behind this vital research.”
With other vaccines such as flu or hepatitis B, the degree of kidney disease or whether someone is taking immunosuppressants means they don’t always work as well as they should. It’s vital we understand how effective the Covid-19 vaccines are, so patients know if other protective measures are also needed – whether patients need to continue shielding, for example. This information will also help doctors tailor treatment for patients – including identifying the best time to give booster doses. Some patients might even require more than two doses in the first instance (for example, as happens in vaccine against hepatitis B).
Views from the Welsh kidney community
Kidney patient, Helen Williams, gave her opinion on the importance of this research: “as an immunosuppressed kidney transplant recipient, I have been told that I have a 1 in 4 chance of dying should I contract Covid 19. Not knowing how protected I am, despite receiving both doses of the vaccine means I cannot lower my ‘shield’ completely. At present my life is in the hands of the general population, and their willingness to get vaccinated, thereby reducing the risk of Covid 19 transmissibility generally. I still feel extremely vulnerable.”
“The results of this research will afford immunosuppressed patients like me the ability to appropriately manage our risk from Covid 19 and boost our protection accordingly. Ultimately it will mean that we too will have the freedom to return to working, raising our families and living life in the ‘new normal’ in Wales.”
Dr Mike Stephens, trustee of Kidney Wales and Chair of the Projects Committee, also a Consultant Transplant Surgeon at the University Hospital of Wales said: “these two research studies will provide answers to questions of the utmost importance to the Welsh kidney community, enabling patients and families to make informed lifestyle choices; and for NHS teams to make evidence-based decisions to manage COVID risk in clinical settings.”
Sandra Currie, Chief Executive of Kidney Research UK said: “We are delighted to be working together with Kidney Wales, the National Kidney Federation (NKF) and kidney patient associations across the UK to fund the COVID-19 vaccine study. We hope it brings answers for kidney patients and guides doctors on how best to protect them in the future.”
How can I donate to this research?
If you would like to make a donation towards vital research into the effectiveness of the Covid-19 vaccines among people with kidney disease, Kidney Wales would welcome contributions through:
- A one-off donation to the research fund https://www.peoplesfundraising.com/donation/kidneywalesresearchfund
- A monthly donation to the research fund https://www.kidneywales.cymru/get-involved/set-regular-donation/
- Hosting your own fundraising activity https://www.kidneywales.cymru/get-involved/fundraising/order-fundraising-pack/
Where can I find out more information about the COVID vaccine?
- COVID-19 Vaccine Newsletter for kidney patients – Special Edition
- COVID-19 Vaccine – Leaflet for Kidney Patients
- Kidney patient conference – COVID-19 vaccine – your questions answered: Resources – Kidney Patient Conference