Are COVID-19 Vaccines Safe for Cancer Patients?

There is not a lot of research data about whether cancer patients should get or would benefit from COVID-19 vaccines. The American Cancer Society states it is safe for most cancer patients to get inoculated but stresses that every case is different, and people should discuss their options with their doctors.

According to the International Business Times, Dr. Laura Makaroff, a family physician and senior vice president of prevention and early detection at the ACS, says that people who have had a recent stem cell transplant, for example, may need to delay vaccinations.

“The COVID-19 vaccine is definitely safe for people with cancer but it’s important that patients have a conversation with their healthcare provider and their cancer care team to determine when is the right time to have the vaccine,” Makaroff told CNN. “All the guidance we’re seeing — the American Cancer Society and other leading oncology groups — is that COVID-19 immunization is recommended for patients in active therapy, but we really understand that there are limited safety and efficacy data on these patients.”

Other experts agree. “The potential benefits far outweigh the risks,” said Dr. Brian Koffman, chief medical officer of the CLL Society that represents people with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. These patients have an 89% increased risk of hospitalization if they develop symptomatic COVID-19, he said, and the mortality rate is 31%. Individuals with CLL have such compromised immune systems that they cannot tolerate many vaccines, such as the measles shot, according to CNN.

While experts say that the COVID-19 vaccines appear to be safe for most cancer patients, the lack of data prompted Dr. Chaitra Ujjani of the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance to launch a research study with 500 CLL American patients across the country who are scheduled to receive their COVID-19 vaccines. The study will involve more than 10 medical institutions and will examine the immune response of these cancer patients to these vaccines. Eventually, they will gather data on other forms of cancer.

Recently the Lung Cancer Action Network sent a letter to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices to consider lung cancer patients as a high-risk group for COVID-19 and to expedite their vaccinations, since the disease affects the respiratory system.

More research is needed to see how effective the COVID-19 vaccines are in people suffering from cancer. If the data shows that the drugs do not protect them against the virus, then experts suggest that everyone else around them needs to be vaccinated, said experts.

“We recommend the COVID-19 vaccines for our patients, but we’re not really sure how effective it’s going to be,” said Ujjani, according to the Times.

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