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Research Shows Many Patients With Cancer Are Hesitant to Get COVID-19 Vaccine

Research Shows Many Patients With Cancer Are Hesitant to Get COVID-19 Vaccine
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Published on March 18, 2021

Should Cancer Patients Get the COVID Vaccine?

A survey of more than 6,500 blood cancer patients and survivors in the U.S. has found that only half are “very likely” to get a COVID-19 vaccine, while one in three is unlikely or unsure about it.

This is despite several studies that suggest cancer patients are more susceptible to COVID-19 and subsequent complications. In December 2020, an article published in JAMA Oncology presented data showing that patients with cancer who are diagnosed with COVID-19 are more likely to require hospitalization (47.46%) than persons without cancer who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 (24.26%).

On January 22, 2021, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) published new guidelines recommending that patients with cancer, as well as their caregivers and household members/close contacts, be immunized when possible.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines prioritize cancer patients in the “1c” vaccination group. Still, there are reports that cancer patients and survivors across the country have struggled to obtain the vaccine due to limited supply and availability.

“These findings are worrisome, to say the least,” said Dr. Gwen Nichols, chief medical officer of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), in a press release. The survey was a collaborative effort between LLS, Boston University Questrom School of Business and The Behaviouralist, a London-based research consultancy. “We know cancer patients — and blood cancer patients, in particular — are susceptible to the worst effects of this virus. All of us in the medical community need to help cancer patients understand the importance of getting vaccinated.”

Prioritizing the COVID Vaccine for Cancer Patients

The American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) and 130 organizations sent a letter to President Biden and state health department leaders last month urging them to prioritize COVID-19 vaccines for cancer patients and survivors, citing “mounting evidence that patients with cancer are at increased risk of severe illness and death if they are infected with the virus.”

The letter pointed to a recently published study in the AACR journal Cancer Discovery that reviewed 28 peer-reviewed articles on fatality rates of patients with cancer who developed COVID-19; they were double that of patients without cancer.

“Patients with cancer who are in treatment often receive frequent in-person clinical care, which has the potential to increase their risk of exposure to the virus,” the letter stated. “Furthermore, certain patients with cancer are vulnerable to infection because of their weakened immune status, which is attributable to their cancers and/or their treatments.”

Is the COVID Vaccine Safe?

According to the survey, the most common reasons for hesitancy were concerns about side effects and a belief that the vaccines have not been tested properly.

While there is no reason to believe COVID-19 vaccines are any less safe in patients with blood cancers, LLS said, there is a legitimate concern that those undergoing certain treatments may not mount the same immune response from the vaccine as the general public. Cancer patients were largely excluded from COVID-19 vaccine trials.

“Right now, we’re missing key data — and patients know it,” Dr. Nichols said in the release. “That may be one of the reasons they’re skeptical. By improving our understanding of how blood cancer patients and survivors respond to these vaccines, we can develop better strategies to protect them from COVID-19.”

LLS has launched the LLS National Patient Registry, open to anyone with blood cancer, to help answer important questions about vaccine effectiveness. The organization also has the “BEAT COVID” trial for patients with blood cancers who have tested positive for COVID-19.

In the meantime, the organization encourages patients with blood cancers to speak to their healthcare team about the vaccine to address any concerns they may have.

On March 5, Patient Power hosted a Facebook Live discussion on the COVID-19 vaccine.Watch the replay for more information.

~Megan Trusdell

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