Blood Cancer and COVID-19
- Lady Nicola Mendelsohn, a leading figure in the tech industry, was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma in 2016.
- She’s had to continue taking precautions against COVID-19 because the vaccine was ineffective for her. Research has shown that the vaccine does not provide the same benefits to some cancer patients.
- Dr. Thomas Martin, a hematologist-oncologist at the University of California San Francisco, encourages people with blood cancer to continue social distancing measures.
Lady Nicola Mendelsohn, a top Facebook executive, recently shared more information on the continued precautions she’s had to take since the vaccine was ineffective for her as a blood cancer warrior.Read More
Mendelsohn was full of hope when the vaccine arrived and looking forward to added protection from COVID-19. Unfortunately, her hope was crushed when she received a negative antibody test after her second dose of the vaccine. She was aware that the vaccine might not work for her because of her weakened immune system as a blood cancer patient, but the news hurt just the same. As a result, she’s had to continue taking extra precautions that others have ditched after vaccination.
In an article for The Telegraph, Mendelsohn said one of the hardest precautions she’s had to take is distancing herself from her 16-year-old son, Zac, who attends school.
“He has had to keep away from me in the house, I can’t give him hugs, so that’s not easy,” she told The Telegraph. “It’s challenging. Now we’ve got the lateral flow tests [rapid COVID-19 tests] and he’s doing those, but it is difficult. At dinner he sits at the furthest end of the table and we keep the windows open. We just can’t be too careful.”
Her family knows how important it is to keep her safe from COVID-19, but Mendelsohn wishes she didn’t have to put that pressure on her children.
“That’s not a burden you want your kids to have,” she said. “Other kids are meeting up now, they’re hanging out with each other but, bless him, my son isn’t doing that. He says to me: ‘Mum, nothing’s more important than you, and so I want to do what I can to support you.’ That’s gorgeous, but you don’t want your 16-year-old to say that.”
Mendelsohn recently shared the article in The Telegraph on her Instagram page in celebration of World Blood Cancer Day which serves as a day to encourage people to become stem cell donors and show their support for people with blood cancer.
View this post on Instagram
“Today marks #worldbloodcancerday and I’m grateful to be able to share my experience of living with Follicular Lymphoma,” she wrote in the caption. “Great to speak to the @telegraph following my covid vaccination about how more could be done to help people facing similar challenges @bloodcancer_uk @follicularlymphomafoundation”
Understanding Follicular Lymphoma
Mendelsohn’s blood cancer, follicular lymphoma, is an extremely rare, slow-growing type of B-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, according to the National Cancer Institute. Among 100,000 women and men, only 2.7 new cases of follicular lymphoma occur every year, and the five-year survival rate is 89 percent. However, due to the lack of research surrounding long-term treatment options for this disease, the cancer is considered “incurable.”
Blood Cancer and the COVID-19 Vaccine
Research indicates the COVID-19 vaccine doesn’t provide the same benefits for people with cancer that affects the blood, bone marrow or lymph nodes – particularly those with chronic lymphocytic leukemia – so you should continue to protect yourself after receiving the vaccine if you have blood cancer.
“Some patients with blood cancers, specifically CLL, were less likely to develop antibodies to the COVID spike protein. And perhaps that means that those patients may be less protected by the vaccine,” explains Dr. Thomas Martin, a hematologist-oncologist at the University of California San Francisco. “This is not news that is unexpected news at this point in time. What we anticipated is that patients with blood cancers, especially those getting therapy, would have a lower ability to produce antibodies or to respond to the vaccine compared to normal patients.”
In the United Kingdom, lockdown restrictions shifted on May 17 allowing people in England, Wales and most of Scotland to socialize indoors in limited numbers, hug loved ones and visit restaurants inside. But Blood Cancer UK released a statement urging the public to be mindful of keeping their distance in order to keep blood cancer patients safe. In a video for the organization, Blood Cancer UK CEO Gemma Peters acknowledged that people should be excited about fewer restrictions, but warned that people with blood cancer are not as protected from the vaccine.
“Be really mindful that not everybody is gonna be in the same place that you are,” Peters said. “Not everyone will have the same levels of protection that you probably do, so observing social distancing still, giving people space, wearing masks in places where there might be people who have compromised immunity is just a really important thing to keep doing.”
Peters added that there is not enough research at the moment to fully understand who in the blood cancer community is protected by the vaccine and why they are protected – or why they are not.
“Hopefully, in a relatively short period of time, we’ll be able to get answers so that everyone can get back to enjoying some of the things that huge waves of the population are enjoying today,” Peters said, urging people to donate to help fund that research.
Sentiments in the United States seem similar. In a statement from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Chief Medical Officer Gwen Nichols addressed common questions from blood cancer patients and their caregivers based the current information available.
“We encourage blood cancer patients, parents of patients, and caregivers to discuss COVID-19 vaccination with their oncologist and healthcare team as early as possible so they can make an informed plan of action,” Nichols wrote. “It’s also critical for blood cancer patients and their caregivers to continue taking precautions such as wearing a mask, maintaining social distancing, and frequent hand washing. Data continues to show that blood cancer patients are at higher risk of developing more severe illness from COVID-19. This includes higher risk for severe infections and death, as well as being contagious longer.”
Dr. Martin recommends blood cancer patients follow these specific precautions after getting the vaccine:
- Vaccinated patients undergoing therapy should still avoid large crowds
- Masks and social distancing are also still needed when in public
- Double mask during plane travel and avoid flights longer than six hours
- Vaccinated patients receiving blood cancer therapy should continue to avoid restaurants or socializing with a lot of people