Commenting on the study,, William Harvey Distinguished Chair in Advanced Cardiovascular Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, suggested that “in epidemiological terms, [the findings] might not look as bad as the way they are reflected in the paper.”
Given that Columbia is “one of the larger heart transplant centers in the U.S., following probably 1,000 patients, having only 22 out of perhaps thousands whom they transplanted or are actively following would actually represent a low serious infection rate,” said Dr. Mehra, who is also the executive director of the Center for Advanced Heart Disease at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, also in Boston.
“We must not forget to emphasize that, when assessing these case fatality rates, we must look at the entire population at risk, not only the handful that we were able to observe,” explained Dr. Mehra, who was not involved with the study.
Moreover, the patients were “older and had comorbidities, with poor underlying kidney function and other complications, and underlying coronary artery disease in the transplanted heart,” so “it would not surprise me that they had such a high fatality rate, since they had a high degree of vulnerability,” he said.
Dr. Mehra, who is also the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Heart and Lung Transplantation, said that the journal has received manuscripts still in the review process that suggest different fatality rates than those found in the current case series.
However, he acknowledged that, because these are patients with serious vulnerability due to underlying heart disease, “you can’t be lackadaisical and need to do everything to decrease this vulnerability.”
The authors noted that, although their study did not show a protective effect from immunosuppression against COVID-19, further studies are needed to assess each individual immunosuppressive agent and provide a definitive answer.
The study was supported by a grant to one of the investigators from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Dr. Uriel reports no relevant financial relationships. The other authors’ disclosures are listed in the publication. Dr. Mehra reports no relevant financial relationships.
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