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'Truly I was shocked': Immunocompromised woman hopes 3rd vaccine dose gives her protection

Sandy Boyer was fully vaccinated this spring but later learned she has no antibodies against COVID-19.

DENVER — Well before the rest of the world was wearing masks and social distancing, those practices were part of Sandy Boyer’s life.

“I originally started with leukemia – chronic lymphocytic leukemia,” Boyer said.

Over the next few years, her cancer diagnosis led to chemo, radiation and even a bone marrow transplant in 2019.

So when the pandemic hit, she knew the drill: Stay inside, mask up, wash your hands. But Boyer’s risk for COVID-19 was higher than most.

“I am immunocompromised," she said. "I take immune suppressants. I’m on a low dose right now, and hopefully that’s going to change into a 'no' dose, but I’m not quite there yet.”

She was hopeful that the COVID-19 vaccines would offer her some protection from the virus, and maybe a little more freedom to enjoy life outside the house. By March, she was fully vaccinated with two shots and feeling relief.

She learned something unexpected a few months later.

“I ended up in a study to find out whether the antibodies had actually taken effect on me from vaccination,” she said. “I found out I actually had no antibodies to fight COVID.”

RELATED: No, if you're not immunocompromised you're not currently eligible for a COVID-19 booster shot

She continued: “I was just shocked, truly I was shocked. Here I was thinking life was going to get back to normal, or some normalcy, where we could go out to eat, meet with friends, things that other people are doing now. We’re not doing that. We are still practicing social distancing, masking up for everything.”

This month, the FDA approved a third vaccine dose for some people: transplant patients and other immunocompromised people. Boyer said she's eager for her next dose, hoping this will be the one that creates protective antibodies. She plans to go in the next two weeks, as soon as she’s cleared after one of her other treatments.

“As soon as that two weeks is up, I am there. I am so ready,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to getting vaccinated again and hoping that this actually gives me some kind of immunity to it.”

RELATED: Reports: FDA could give Pfizer COVID vaccine full approval Monday

“The bottom line is, we shouldn’t just think of ourselves. We have to think of this target population, these immunocompromised patients,” said Dr. Alireza “Ali” Eghtedar, an oncologist with Colorado Blood Cancer Institute.

Dr. Eghtedar said many of his patients and others like them got dangerously sick, or even died, from COVID-19 due to their weakened immune system. Researchers are starting to study how some patients – like those with various blood cancer – sometimes develop lower levels of antibodies or no antibodies after getting fully vaccinated.

“If those individuals who are healthy consider getting vaccinated, they help to break this cycle of the virus staying in society and not only they help themselves, but they help these immunocompromised patients too.”

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