Immunocompromised to unvaccinated: You’re still a community


3 Clark County women hope unvaccinated people stop and consider those who are at high risk of serious complications from COVID-19

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — As people across the United States continue to flout the COVID-19 vaccine and cases of the delta variant surge, those living with compromised immune systems have a dire plea: consider the safety of others.

Jennifer Browning, Nicole Arneson and Laura Ellsworth are three friends living in Clark County who have all had kidney transplants. For them, life during the pandemic means strictly following the same COVID measures mandated for the general public before a vaccine ever became available.

“We don’t do the things that vaccinated people are doing and because we’ve been told by our medical providers that you need to continue to live as if you’ve been unvaccinated,” said Ellsworth.

All three women — who have been vaccinated — were part of a recent Johns Hopkins study that found vaccinated immunocompromised people are 485 times more likely to end up in a hospital or die from COVID compared to vaccinated people with healthy immune systems.

“One of the medications a lot of us are on is an antimetabolites which is what is preventing the antibody-building from the vaccine,” explained Arneson.

All three women have also experienced fear, anger and frustration throughout the pandemic as they try to work full-time jobs and care for their families.

“You hear people saying ‘no way, I won’t wear a mask, no I won’t get vaccinated, you can’t make me, I’m fine’ — you know, that kind of talk,” said Browning.

Each woman has had to remain on guard day after day, week after week to protect her family from exposure to COVID because the alternative could have devastating consequences.

“During flu season, we’re extra cautious in general and then when COVID hit, that did get really scary,” said Arneson. “When you don’t have an immune system, a simple flu can knock you down. If my family gets a cold, it takes about a week for everybody to get over it; it’s going to take me a month to get over that exact same cold virus that is going through my husband and kids. Our bodies cannot fight anything and it’ll just allow COVID to come in.”

Browning said COVID is “immensely dangerous” for transplant recipients as COVID can target a person’s kidneys, leading to renal failure. Ellsworth said that, for them, complications from COVID can mean dialysis or worse.

“We’ve been given this gift from other people and we know it is our utmost responsibility to take care of that as best they can,” she said. “That is another driving factor in all of us, I know, and in all the other transplant patients I know — we don’t take risks because we know that we are so lucky to have been given this chance in the first place to live a normal, healthy life and not be on dialysis in our case.”

While much of the population is impatient to fully return to pre-pandemic life, Browning, Arneson and Ellsworth hope that people stop and consider the impact their choices have on others.

“So many people around us are not getting vaccinated for whatever reason and it just puts us more at risk,” said Arneson. “And so we cannot continue to live our lives like we were lucky enough to do so for so many years post-transplant so it’s honestly a very scary world right now for us.”

The women hope people will remember they’re part of a larger community.

“I guess for me what always rings true is the fact that whether you want to be or not, we’re all a community, right? Whether you think it’s just about protecting yourself and what’s happening to you or not, you’re still a community and we all have a part to play,” said Browning.

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