Growing Calls for People Facing Cancer To Receive Vaccine Sooner
- The American Association for Cancer Research and former New York lieutenant governor Betsy McCaughey are among the voices calling for people fighting cancer to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible.
- People fighting cancer are twice as likely to be hospitalized, or pass away, after contracting COVID.
- People currently having chemotherapy are especially vulnerable.
- The COVID-19 vaccine is safe for cancer patients because it doesn’t contain the live virus.
“The prioritization for early Covid-19 vaccine administration at this time of limited supplies should start with the patients with a recent cancer diagnosis for which they are undergoing treatment.” Dr. Antoni Ribas, President of the American Association for Cancer Research
“As COVID vaccines are being rolled out, an extremely vulnerable group is being overlooked,” McCaughey wrote. “Doctors are sounding the alarm that many state governments and the federal advisory committee charged with prioritizing who gets vaccinated should move cancer patients up to the front of the line, right after nursing-home residents and frontline health workers.”
McCaughey isn’t alone: the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), one of the nation’s leading cancer research and advocacy groups, is also calling for faster vaccine access for people facing cancer.
“The prioritization for early Covid-19 vaccine administration at this time of limited supplies should start with the patients with a recent cancer diagnosis for which they are undergoing treatment,” AACR President Dr. Antoni Ribas told Forbes.
There are currently three phases of vaccine rollout planned based on the recommendations of the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP).
Phase 1a will deliver the very first doses of the vaccine to healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities. Phase 1b will cover front-line essential workers and adults over 75. Under the current guidelines, cancer patients would only be vaccinated in the third stage alongside adults 65 and older and people with other medical conditions.
Cancer & COVID-19
The calls to prioritize cancer patients for vaccination come as study after study continue to show that people facing cancer are far more likely to suffer serious outcomes from the virus than people without cancer.
A new study published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association found that cancer patients who contract the virus “had higher risks in all severe outcomes”.
People fighting cancer are twice as likely to be hospitalized if they catch the virus and three times as likely to die once hospitalized than people without cancer.
If you are getting chemotherapy, radiation, or immunotherapy to treat your cancer, your immune system is weakened and could leave you with a higher chance of serious complications from the virus. For those who received these therapies in the three months before getting sick, the mortality rate can spike up to 50%, according to a University of Cincinnati study.
“It is not surprising that a patient on chemotherapy may do worse when they get sick,” Dr. Heather Yeo, a colon and rectal surgeon at Weill Cornell Medical Center, told SurvivorNet in a previous interview. “Chemotherapy in general lowers the body’s immune system and puts people at risk for other infections.”
If you’re fighting cancer, it’s critical that you be especially cautious about possible exposure to the virus. Follow all CDC guidelines, wear a mask when in public, obey social distancing guidelines, and minimize your exposure to people outside your household.
What to Know About the COVID-19 Vaccine
There are now two approved COVID-19 vaccines that are being distributed nationwide. These vaccines are safe and effective for the vast majority of cancer patients, and considering their increased risk, many experts are calling for cancer patients to be prioritized as the vaccine is rolled out.
“At this time, we feel that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines would be safe for cancer patients and survivors since it is not a live vaccine,” Joleen Hubbard, MD, told SurvivorNet in a recent interview. “There are other vaccines being developed that are live, so patients undergoing active treatment should not receive those if they make it to market.”
The approved vaccine doesn’t contain a live version of the COVID-19 virus. Rather, it uses genetic material called mRNA to trigger your body’s immune system to attack the virus if it enters your body. This is good news if you are immunocompromised because of recent chemotherapy, as a more traditional vaccine that contained live virus could end up getting you sick.
Talk to your doctor about getting vaccinated against COVID-19. While it will be safe for the majority of patients, some people currently in clinical trials might need to avoid the vaccine due to possible bad interactions.