Triangle patients and docs weigh benefits of third COVID shot for people with immune system problems

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- There's new questions about whether people with immune system problems should get a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. France is vaccinating people a third time if their bodies have a harder time creating COVID antibodies. But there's isn't a big discussion or national study about it in the U.S. - raising concerns some among patients in the Triangle.

Kris Bengston has come a long way from his first appearance on ABC11. In 2018, the Johnston County craft beer brewer had just been diagnosed with an aggressive throat cancer; emergency surgeries; and an outpouring of support from local beer brewers to help Bengston's family and business survive the crisis.

"I'm doing really well," Bengston told ABC 11 Wednesday. "And my oncologist used the word 'cured' which is very rare for them to say."

While he's been cancer-free for nearly four years, the chemotherapy and radiation did a number on Bengston's immune system. Back in April, France announced it would give third shots of the two-dose COVID-19 vaccine to cancer patients and others with immune system problems; immunocompromised patients whose bodies didn't respond well enough to the first two doses.

A new French study of organ transplant recipients producing COVID antibodies increased from 40% after the second dose to 68% after a third dose of the vaccine.

Bengston and his wife Dana, both double-vaccinated since March, are now wondering if Kris needs a third.

"There's a lot of people going through cancer treatments, dialysis and organ transplants and people having to take drugs that suppress their immune system," Dana said. "We've got France already doing a third dose. And we haven't heard anything about it here."

UNC-Chapel Hill infectious disease doctor, David Wohl, telling ABC 11 that it's important to remember the vaccine triggers other COVID-fighting functions, not just antibodies. Wohl is not ready to back a third COVID shot.

"I'd like to see a little more data so we understand the proportion of people who do get re-vaccinated who didn't mount an initial response that subsequently mount a response that's respectable," Wohl said. "The good news is a lot of people who survive cancer and a lot of older people at extremes of age are people who we find do mount a really good response and we do find antibodies."

Back at the Bengstons - Kris is discussing getting an antibody test with his doctors.

"So, I brought it up and he basically said that if I wanted a test for antibodies done, I could," Bengston said. "But as far as (my doctor) was concerned, I was not considered immunocompromised anymore."

With a telling smile, Dana replied, "I would feel better if he got tested. We'll talk about it."

Still cancer-free and trying to keep COVID away too.
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