Fuad El Rassi, MD: Sickle Cell Disease and COVID-19

Fuad El Rassi talks about the Grady Comprehensive Sickle Cell center, the COVID-19 vaccine, and the data he presented at ASH.

A study presented at the 2021 American Society of Hematology (ASH) Annual Meeting & Exposition examined the infection and outcomes of COVID-19 among patients at the Grady Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center, the largest adult sickle cell disease (SCD) center in the US.

It has the first acute care unit that’s open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to care for patients who are experiencing a sickle cell vaso-occlusive event (VOE).

The team of investigators who conducted the research was led by Fuad El Rassi, MD, Associate Professor of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Emory University School of Medicine, and the Director of Sickle Cell Disease Research at the Georgia Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center at Grady Health System.

In an interview with HCPLive®, El Rassi went over the different services that the sickle cell center provides and what it was like to transition to virtual treatment during the lockdown.

“It’s interesting that the majority of the patients were vigilant about really reducing exposure and reducing leaving the house,” El Rassi said. “That’s commendable, in our patient population.”

A total of 1343 patients were tracked in the clinical database from March 2020-March 2021. Data revealed that 55 patients got COVID-19 within that year.

Of the sickle cell disease patients who contracted COVID-19, 49% of them visited the Grady Comprehensive Sickle Cell center because of a vaso-occlusive event.

El Rassi explained that the main presenting sign or symptom in almost half of the patients with COVID-19 was related to a sickle cell vaso-occlusive event rather than related to COVID-19.

He also emphasized the importance of getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We know that vaccinations work, we recommend vaccination,” El Rassi said, “in fact, the Sickle Cell Association of America (SCAA) came out with a big recommendation for all sickle cell patients to be vaccinated against COVID-19, it’s protective.”