FAQ: COVID-19 Basics for Transplant Patients
Last updated May 7, 2021
If you or a loved one is a UCSF transplant patient, you can find answers here to questions about the coronavirus (COVID-19), vaccines for COVID-19 and how to otherwise minimize your risk of infection.
Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe?
The COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are considered safe, and we recommend the vaccine for all pretransplant patients and for transplant recipients who are at least one month post-transplant. You can find more information in this COVID-19 vaccine FAQ sheet from the American Society of Transplantation.
I am taking medications that suppress my immune system. Do I need to take special precautions with regard to COVID-19?
Based on experience with other viral respiratory infections, it is possible that COVID-19 infection will be more severe in the immunosuppressed population. Immunosuppressed patients should take the following precautions:
- Wash your hands often with soap and warm water, scrubbing for at least 20 seconds each time. When soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
- Don't touch your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people outside of your home.
- Don't go to work if you feel sick.
- Avoid nonessential travel.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and throw the tissue in the trash. Then wash your hands with soap and water.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces every day.
- Stay home as much as possible. If you need to go out, avoid crowded public spaces, staying at least six feet from other people.
- Wear a mask or cloth face covering when you are in public places, such as the grocery store. Please do not wear a mask with a valve, as these masks allow droplet release and do not protect others who may be nearby.
Should I continue to take my immunosuppressive medications?
Yes. However, if you develop any signs of illness, such as fever or respiratory symptoms, contact your medical team for guidance on whether to continue these medications as well as whether to seek care. If you have any questions about your regimen, check with your doctor.
Will donated organs be safe?
Yes, organ procurement organizations test all potential deceased donors for COVID-19 prior to offering the organs for transplant.
Will living organ donation be safe during the pandemic?
All living donors are tested for COVID-19 the week prior to surgery and are advised to quarantine at home until they are admitted to the hospital for the procedure. All patients, including donors and recipients, are also tested at the time of admission.
Will living donors be vaccinated for COVID-19?
At this time, UCSF is not offering living donors the vaccine prior to surgery. Donors will need to contact their primary care institutions about vaccination. If living donors are offered the vaccine, they should receive it no less than 48 hours before surgery. This allows time to observe for any reaction.
National Kidney Registry donors should receive the vaccine, if available to them, at least seven days before surgery, so that entire chains aren't jeopardized and there's time to observe for any reaction.
As someone with immunosuppression, how do I talk with my employer about workplace accommodations?
These letters from UCSF Transplant Services may help you communicate with your employer about precautionary measures in the workplace that can help keep you and your family safe.
Can I get a COVID-19 vaccine? If so, where and when can I get it?
We have received limited batches of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for COVID-19, and we are following the distribution guidelines of the California Department of Public Health. That means our frontline health care workers receive their initial vaccinations first, followed by UCSF primary care patients aged 65 and older. Both vaccines require two doses and two appointments.
Please be patient as we open up appointment opportunities to match vaccine supply. Your grouping is not determined by your doctor but by your age and health conditions, in accordance with guidelines from the California Department of Public Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Please do not contact your doctor's office, as we have a centralized vaccine clinic that is managing distribution. Your doctor can't request a vaccine for you or influence the scheduling of your appointment. The vaccine is not being given in doctors' offices.
As the program goes forward, we will keep patients updated on our plans for rolling out these important vaccines.
Will the COVID vaccine hurt my transplanted organ?
As previously noted, the recommendation is to wait at least one month after your transplant surgery to receive either of the available COVID-19 vaccines. You can find more information in the American Society of Transplantation's COVID-19 vaccine FAQ sheet.
Is it OK to get the vaccine if I have another underlying condition, such as cancer or heart failure, or if I've had a multiorgan transplant?
Anyone with multiple or complex health conditions should consult their primary care provider about whether the vaccine is right for them.
What if I've had allergies to vaccines in the past?
If you've ever had an allergic reaction to a vaccine, please talk to your primary care provider about whether the vaccine is right for you. Also, the CDC offers an information page on allergic reactions to COVID and other vaccines.
Has anyone had life-threating reactions to the COVID-19 vaccines?
The CDC notes that there have been reports of severe reactions that required treatment with epinephrine or a trip to the hospital. If you have had a serious reaction to any of the ingredients in the currently available COVID-19 vaccines, the CDC recommends that you do not get one of these vaccines. Read more from the CDC about vaccine reactions.
What if I feel sick after receiving the vaccine?
You may be having a response to the vaccine. Consult your primary care provider right away for guidance, including on whether to seek treatment. The CDC's information page on vaccine reactions offers additional information.
Should I take anything before the shot to prevent side effects from the vaccine?
No, do not premedicate. In general, taking over-the-counter medications – such as aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) – before receiving a vaccine can blunt your immune system's response to the vaccine, reducing its efficacy. However, if you have symptoms that make you uncomfortable after your vaccination, you may take an over-the-counter pain reliever to help you feel better.
Should I receive two vaccine doses, and do they have to be the same brand?
Ideally, you will receive two doses, and they should be the same brand – either Pfizer or Moderna. Both company's vaccines are given as a two-dose series. This means you must receive both doses to achieve the 94 to 95 percent protection seen in the trials.
- The Pfizer vaccine doses are given 21 days apart.
- The Moderna vaccine doses are given 28 days apart.
Can I choose between Pfizer and Moderna?
With limited supplies, we can't offer patients who wish to be vaccinated the ability to make this selection. Either of these COVID-19 vaccines should be administered alone, with at least 14 days of separation before or after any other vaccine is given. There is no information on the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines when administered at the same time as vaccines for other diseases. However, if a COVID-19 vaccine is accidentally administered within 14 days of another vaccine, there is no need to repeat either vaccine.
Should I continue to wear a mask after being vaccinated?
Yes. Your body's response to the vaccine takes time, and the CDC can't rule out the possibility that a vaccinated individual could spread the virus to other people. Therefore, you should wear a mask and practice social distancing when outside of your household, even after receiving the vaccine.
For more information, visit our COVID-19 Vaccine Information Hub.
- COVID-19 Resources for UCSF Patients
- COVID-19 Vaccine Information for UCSF Patients
- COVID-19 Information From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- COVID-19 FAQs From Transplant Candidates and Recipients (American Society of Transplantation)
- COVID-19 Vaccine FAQ Sheet (American Society of Transplantation)
- COVID-19 Resources for the Transplant Community (American Society of Transplantation)
- COVID-19 Transplant Resource (COVID-19 Transplant Community Coalition)
- SARS-CoV-2 Vaccination in Heart and Lung Transplantation (International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation)
- COVID-19 Vacunas para Pacientes Hispanos y Transplantes (AST webinar, "COVID-19 Vaccines for Hispanic Transplant Patients with special guest, José Luis Rodríguez)
Webinars: Organ Transplants and Donation During COVID-19
UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.