FLOSSMOOR — The family of a Flossmoor man who got both COVID-19 vaccine doses but later contracted the virus and subsequently died hope to bring awareness of the vaccine's antibody building abilities in some people with preexisting health conditions.
Alan Sporn, 75, tested positive for the coronavirus and died March 29 despite having received his follow-up shot in early February, according to Laurie Sporn, one of his daughters.
He was under a doctor's care for chronic lymphomatic leukemia, and testing done after he was diagnosed with COVID-19 around the third week of March showed his body had developed little resistance to the virus, she said.
Recent medical studies have indicated that people with certain types of cancer might be more susceptible to COVID-19 infections, even after receiving the vaccine.
Sporn "had a fever that wouldn't go away," his daughter said, and he was initially treated in a hospital emergency room and sent home, but didn't get better.
He was admitted March 22 to Glenbrook Hospital in Glenview, where he died, she said.
"The biggest shock to us was he had no antibodies," Laurie Sporn said. "He had 18 when they should be in the high hundreds or thousands."
"We never thought of the possibility the vaccine wouldn't work," she said.
In early April, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center reported findings of a study done on patients at its Hillman Cancer Center that showed people with cancers affecting the blood, bone marrow or lymph nodes were at a higher risk of COVID-19 vaccine failure, and that the risk was particularly acute among those with chronic lymphomatic leukemia, such as Sporn.
The study results mirror those done elsewhere, including the United Kingdom, and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society recently noted that some blood cancer patients "may not get optimal protection from vaccines" and may be more susceptible to COVID-19 infections even after being vaccinated.
Sporn said her dad had been extremely cautious, and not venturing out during the pandemic, but after getting the vaccine felt he was OK and went out for meals twice with friends he hadn't seen in ages.
"These are his best friends," she said.
It was at some point later her dad developed a fever and had labored breathing, and went to the emergency room at Evanston Hospital, she said.
Sporn said that, since her father's death, the family has heard from other people, including those with chronic lymphomatic leukemia, about how the vaccine did little to produce antibodies against COVID-19. Chronic lymphomatic leukemia, or CLL, is a slowly progressing cancer of the blood and bone marrow.
"The positive of this is other people are aware and can't assume they are safe," Sporn said. "Truly, if anything comes out of this it is awareness."
The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center study showed that about three weeks after getting their final vaccination of a two-dose shot such as the Pfizer or Moderna, of 67 patients with hematologic malignancies including leukemias and lymphomas, some 46% had not produced antibodies.
Further, just three in 13 patients with CLL had produced measurable antibodies, the medical center reported, even though 70% of them were not undergoing any form of cancer therapy.
Sporn said that while her father was under a doctor's care, he was actively receiving treatment for his leukemia.
University doctors say that the results of the study should not prompt those with similar types of cancers to be tested for antibodies, as that test results could cause unnecessary concern in those without detectable antibodies while a positive test could give a false sense of security.
Those with suppressed immune systems should still get vaccinated but continue to wear a mask and practice social distancing, according to the medical center.
While Alan Sporn's name might not be familiar to many people, anyone who has been in a hair salon may have come in contact with his company's wares.
Homewood-based Spornette International sells a full line of hair brushes globally to distributors, salons and other outlets, and Alan Sporn worked for the business his father started in 1950, Walter Sporn Brush Co.
Alan Sporn worked for the business about five decades, and in 2018 turned over management of the company to Laurie, Spornette's president, and son Jeffrey.
Laurie Sporn said her father didn't completely retire from the business, and that there were certain longtime accounts he continued to nurture even after turning over the reins of the business to his kids.
In Alan Sporn's obituary, rather than seeking donations to a charitable organization, the family asked simply that "to honor Alan please do something nice for someone or reach out to an old friend."
"He traveled for his living, and in every city, every country in the world he would spend time with those he knew," his daughter said. "He was very kind, very giving."