Many people living with compromised immune systems, including those with a primary immune deficiency, have questions about the new coronavirus and how it could specifically affect them. In video conversations she started recording on March 3, Dr. Kathleen Sullivan has been trying to answer them - although admittedly with limited data about COVID-19.
Sullivan, Chief of Allergy and Immunology at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, has so far recorded three 12-minute videos that have more than 15,000 views on YouTube. She serves as a physician advisor to the Immune Deficiency Foundation, which is hosting the videos on its YouTube channel. The IDF represents thousands of patients who have one of an estimated 400 different primary immune deficiency diseases, which makes people vulnerable to infections.
In her most recent video, from March 18, Sullivan gives a full readout of the current treatments being explored and talks about what’s known – and what remains to be discovered – about the intersection of the virus and individual primary immunodeficiencies.
“You will be pleased to know that the Immune Deficiency Foundation, the international union of immunological societies and all the continental societies have banded together to try to collect this information,” she said in the most recent recorded message.
Sullivan said to expect more on that in several weeks. In the meantime, the doctor has given specific instructions on hand washing and how not to touch your face. She’s offered on-the-fly lessons about the immune system and how COVID-19 seems to progress over a period of weeks.
In the video series, Sullivan has sought to set reasonable expectations about when a vaccine might be commercially available. She has even shared a red herring: If the virus’s worst impacts are caused by an oversized immune system reaction called a cytokine storm, then having an immune system that underreacts in a particular way, could potentially be beneficial.
“Here’s an example where it actually facilitates recovery from the virus,” Sullivan said.
Much more needs to be known, said Sullivan, a serious, calm and smiling presence. She has a PhD in immunology and biochemistry as well as a medical degree, according to her bio on the CHOP website.
“In the lab, she investigates the biochemical origins of immunodeficiency and autoimmune disease; in the clinic, she discovers ways to translate new findings into treatments for patients,” her bio says.
In the March 18 video, Sullivan signed off on an optimistic note, pointing out the huge amount of “money, effort and brainpower” going into development of a vaccine.
Groups representing PI patients and the study of primary immunodeficiency diseases are serving as key resources for those trying to navigate the pandemic. Learn more about the IDF response to coronavirus, which now includes an option for patients to receive text alerts.
Learn about a joint statement on COVID-19 from the International Patient Organisation for Primary Immunodeficiencies.