Study says dialysis patients should get vaccine priority

A public health nurse administers the COVID-19 vaccine. (File photo by Miranda Chant, Blackburn News)

London-based researchers are calling for dialysis patients to be given higher priority on the COVID-19 vaccination rollout list.

According to findings of a Western University and Lawson Health Research Institute study, people who require dialysis are at an increased risk of not only contracting the virus, but dying from it.

“Early reports from Wuhan and Milan showed chronic dialysis patients were vulnerable to COVID-19, and that’s why we decided to undertake this study,” said study author Dr. Peter Blake, a Western professor and Lawson associate scientist. “We were surprised to see that both the mortality rate and hospitalization rate were so high here in Ontario.”

Researchers used data gathered weekly by the Ontario Renal Network for the study.

They found of the more than 12,000 Ontarians undergoing long-term dialysis, 187  became infected with COVID-19 between March and August 2020. Sixty per cent of the COVID positive dialysis patients were hospitalized and nearly 30 per cent died. Blake adds that works out to a mortality rate that is roughly four times that of the general population who test positive for the virus.

Numbers during the second wave, which began in September of last year, were even more discouraging for dialysis patients, with another 424 of them contracting the virus, the equivalent to 4.5 per cent of all dialysis patients in the province.

Those who underwent their treatment in the hospital, rather than at home, were at greater risk of catching COVID-19, Blake noted.

“As the pandemic proceeds, focused efforts should be made to protect this vulnerable group of individuals from infection,” said Blake. “We also encourage patients to take at-home dialysis whenever possible to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19.”

The study was recently published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.