Page last updated on Tuesday 1 November at 17:40.
We are now fully back to seeing our patients face-to-face in the outpatient department.
However, if you would prefer a virtual appointment, please contact the transplant unit on 01223 638007 so that we can arrange local blood tests before your appointment.
If you still have a question after reading the FAQs below, please email the transplant continuining care team.
Am I at an increased risk from COVID-19?
What about the new variants?
Should I be vaccinated against COVID-19?
Will I respond to COVID-19 vaccination?
Does vaccination reduce the risk of COVID-19 in transplant patients?
Can other treatments reduce my risk of catching COVID-19?
What else can I do to reduce my risk from COVID-19?
What should I do if I feel unwell?
What should happen if I test positive for COVID-19?
What COVID-19 treatments are available for transplant patients?
Should I attend my outpatient appointment?
Are you still performing transplants?
Will I still be able to access my medicines / do I need to stockpile?
How you can help.
Transplant patients were classed as ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ during the first two years of the pandemic. This terminology is no longer used, but transplant patients remain at higher risk of serious illness due to COVID-19.
NHS Blood and Transplant collected data about COVID-19 in transplant patients for two years. At the time of the final NHSBT report in March 2022, 22.7% of heart transplant recipients and 22.6% of lung transplant recipients had tested positive for COVID-19. Sadly, 7.5% of heart transplant patients and 15.5% of lung transplant patients died within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test.
Transplant patients may be at particularly high risk if they have graft damage that has occurred since transplant or have another risk factor such as older age, being from a black or Asian minority ethnic group, obesity or kidney problems. Lung transplant patients who require oxygen or NIV are likely to be at the highest risk. Patients with chronic heart or lung disease who are waiting for transplantation are also at increased risk of serious illness due to COVID-19.
New variants of Coronavirus emerge all the time, particularly in unvaccinated populations. The Omicron variant emerged in November 2021 and has rapidly spread to become the dominant variant in most countries of the world. Omicron is more transmissible than the previous dominant variant (Delta) but causes milder illness. There are a number of sub-variants of Omicron. Variants of concern are called BA.2, BA.4 and BA.5. Variants of interest are BA.2.75 and BQ.1.
Yes. We strongly recommend that you and eligible members of your household are vaccinated. More than 150 million doses of the AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in the UK and 88.3% of those aged 12 or over are fully vaccinated.
COVID-19 vaccines use new technology. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use a piece of genetic material (mRNA) for spike protein, a surface protein on the COVID-19 virus. The most recent version of the Moderna vaccine has been modified to provide better protection against Omicron. Vaccines offer protection if you subsequently encounter the COVID-19 virus, either by preventing or reducing the severity of illness. There are very rare side effects from COVID-19 vaccines but they are safe for transplant patients. We do not suggest any changes to your immunosuppression at the time of vaccination.
Adults who are immunosuppressed, such as transplant patients, should get three vaccine doses for their primary course of vaccination. Once a transplant patient has received all three primary vaccine doses, then subsequent doses of vaccine are called a booster. Transplant patients will be offered regular booster vaccine doses.
It is important to acknowledge that all vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccine, are less effective in immunosuppressed patients. Studies have shown that around one-third of transplant patients have no detectable antibody response to COVID-19, even after a third dose of vaccine. However, it is possible that the cellular response to vaccination (which cannot be easily measured) is more important than the antibody response. An antibody test does not tell you whether you are ‘safe’ from COVID-19. If you are interested in knowing more about COVID-19 antibody levels, then please consider joining the MELODY study.
This is a very difficult question to answer.
NHS Blood and Transplant and the UK Health Security Agency have been monitoring COVID-19 in all 40,000 transplant patients in the UK, as they have been vaccinated. Unfortunately, vaccination does not reduce the risk of testing positive for COVID-19. However, vaccination reduces the risk of dying of COVID-19 by around 20%.
More information is available on the NHS Blood and Transplant - COVID-19 vaccination Q&As web page.
New treatments are being developed to reduce your risk of catching COVID-19 but these are not currently commissioned for use in the NHS and are not available at Royal Papworth Hospital.
Evusheld is a combination of two monoclonal antibodies (Tixagevimab and Cilgavimab). Evusheld contains long-acting antibodies that bind the spike protein on the outside of the COVID-19 virus and prevent it from entering cells. In a clinical trial, Evusheld reduced the risk of developing symptomatic COVID-19 by 77%, with protection continuing for six months. However, the expert panel who advise the UK government do not feel that there is sufficient information for Evusheld to be used in the UK at present.
Another monoclonal antibody (Sotrovimab) is being assessed in the PROTECT-V trial. This study is taking place in a number of UK centres, including Cambridge, and you may be invited to participate in 2023.
We recommend that you follow national guidance to keep safe and reduce spread of the virus. The guidance changes frequently and it is important to keep updated.
Measures which help include:
• Ensure you are vaccinated.
• Consider continuing to wear a face covering in public spaces.
• Work from home if this feels right for you – if you cannot work from home, speak to your employer about what arrangements they can make to reduce your risk.
• Reduce the time you spend in enclosed crowded spaces.
• Practice social distancing if that feels right for you.
• Ventilate your home by opening windows and doors to let fresh air in.
• Consider asking friends and family to take a rapid lateral flow antigen test before visiting you.
• Ask home visitors to wear face coverings and wear a face covering yourself.
• Wash your hands regularly and avoid touching your face.
Regular spirometry is recommended for lung transplant patients. Consider downloading the NHS COVID-19 app. Finally, we recommend that you keep a COVID-19 lateral flow test kit at home, so you can do a test if you develop symptoms. Transplant patients are still eligible to keep lateral flow tests at home. If you do not have a pack of lateral flow tests, then you can order these on-line at gov.uk or by calling 119.
If you develop fever, cough or difficulty breathing you should perform a home lateral flow test and report the result as instructed. Symptoms of COVID-19 may be similar to other problems in transplant patients. Please call the transplant unit on 01223 638007 if you wish to discuss your symptoms. If you are unwell or a lung transplant patient with a drop in lung function, then you may be advised to go to hospital.
If you are advised to come to Royal Papworth Hospital, please stay in your car and call the transplant unit nurses on 07775 587395 when you arrive. Do not enter the hospital without making contact with the transplant team.
If you report a positive COVID-19 test, then you should be called within 24 hours by an expert clinician from your local NHS COVID Medicines Delivery Unit (CMDU) who will discuss the most appropriate treatment. These treatments are described in detail below.
Please contact the transplant unit on 01223 638007 to let us know that you have COVID-19. Do not stop taking your immunosuppression. We will tell you if your medications need to change. Whilst there is no longer a legal requirement to self-isolate, you should stay at home and avoid contact with other people. This helps reduce the chance of passing COVID-19 on to others.
Please contact us if your symptoms worsen. Depending on your circumstances, we may ask you to call NHS 111 or use NHS 111 online. If you develop life-threatening symptoms such as difficulty in breathing, blue lips, pale/blotchy skin, collapse or drowsiness/confusion, then immediately dial 999 and tell the operator that you have COVID-19.
New treatments are becoming available for COVID-19 all the time and the NHS is trying to deliver these treatments outside hospital where possible. This is a rapidly evolving area and the best treatment option is likely to vary from patient to patient.
Sotrovimab is a neutralising monoclonal antibody and is given as an intravenous infusion. It sticks to the COVID-19 virus and stops it from getting into your lungs. Molnupiravir is a tablet that interferes with viral replication. Both medications reduce the risk of severe COVID-19. They are recommended as soon as possible after a positive COVID-19 test and within 5 days of symptom onset.
Transplant patients are eligible for treatment with Sotrovimab and Molnupiravir. Both treatments are available from your local CMDU. If you report a positive COVID-19 home test, then an expert clinician from your local CMDU will call you to discuss the most appropriate treatment. Sotrovimab will be given at the CMDU, while Molnupiravir can be collected or delivered to your home.
A treatment called Paxlovid (Nirmatrelvir and Ritonavir) is not appropriate for Transplant patients because it interacts with immunosuppression. For the most unwell patients who are admitted to hospital, other treatments such as Dexamethasone, Remdesivir, Tocilizumab and Sarilumab may be considered by the doctors looking after you. These medications are safe for Transplant patients.
There are restrictions on the number of outpatients that we can bring into Royal Papworth Hospital, in order to keep all patients safe within the hospital environment.
We will contact you before your next appointment and let you know whether we will see you in person or whether we will convert your appointment to a ‘virtual’ appointment. If we are unable to see you in person, then we may ask you to have blood tests performed locally.
If you are uncertain whether you should attend your appointment, please contact the transplant unit on 01223 638007 before you travel to Royal Papworth Hospital.
Our programme has remained open for heart and lung transplantation throughout the pandemic. Although we prioritised our most unwell patients during the peaks of the pandemic, our program has returned to standard pre-pandemic practice. We are confident that we can safely perform transplants and protect immunosuppressed patients in our hospital.
There are very few COVID-19 patients in our hospital at the moment but the number might increase during future waves. It is still possible that we may be unable to do a transplant because of ‘logistical’ problems on the day or night, such as lack of an intensive care unit bed after the operation.
We keep the situation under regular review. Like all transplant units, we would only stop transplantation as a last resort. This might happen if our hospital became too full to be safe or if there were severe staff shortages.
We continue to work closely with our NHS partners (e.g. Homecare) to make sure we have enough supplies of medicines for our patients. If you are currently receiving medicines such as anti-rejection medication from Homecare, this will continue. The main change people may experience is that drivers may not ask for a signature and may stay a safe distance away from patients by setting the parcel down and then walking away and waiting for the recipient to pick up the parcel. No medicines will be left unattended.
Please see our pharmacy COVID-19 page for more information.
As usual, make sure you have enough ‘buffer stock’ by keeping at least two to four weeks’ worth of your medicines at all times, and requesting repeat prescriptions or Homecare deliveries well in advance of this supply running out. That will give your pharmacy or Homecare provider enough time to deal with any shortages should they arise. This is standard practice for our patients and not new advice.
If you are experiencing any difficulty getting hold of a supply of your medicines, or if you have any concerns about their availability, please let the transplant continuing care team know as soon as possible by emailing email@example.com.