COVID-19 Vaccine and Cancer: What Patients Ought to Know

Oncology Nursing News, February 2021, Volume 15, Issue 1

The approval of COVID-19 vaccines has been celebrated worldwide. However, there is critical information that patients need before getting the shot.

Since the start of the pandemic, more than 93.3 million individuals have contracted and died from the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).1 Measures such as the implementation of mandatory protective equipment, temporary closure of nonessential businesses, stay-at-home orders, and social distancing have been an asset in controlling the spread of the virus worldwide. Vaccine approvals have continued to reduce the incidence and prevalence of COVID-19.

The challenges that currently ravage the oncology community include the fear of contracting COVID-19, given that many patients with cancer already have a compromised immune system. Research says patients with cancer are twice as likely to die from COVID-19 and have worse outcomes compared with a patient who develops COVID without cancer.2 Given the complexity among the different types of cancer and their treatments, the cause of death also varies. It is known, however, that patients with hematologic malignancies are at higher risk for mortality given their lack of effective function among the cell lineage responsible for fighting this illness.

So is it safe for patients with cancer to receive the COVID-19 vaccine? First and foremost, patients should consult their primary oncologist before receiving the vaccine. Minority patients have a higher incidence of developing COVID-19 and should therefore be stratified appropriately for prioritization of the vaccine. Patients who are immunocompromised may receive the vaccine as long as there are no contraindications.3 Providers should tell these individuals that there are still unknowns regarding the vaccine’s impact on patients with compromised immune systems.3 Antibody testing should not be done to evaluate the effectiveness of the vaccine. It is also not recommended that patients be revaccinated after completion of chemotherapy or immunosuppressant therapy.3

Ultimately, the FDA approval of COVID-19 vaccines offers a light at the end of the tunnel. However, nurses must be sure to discuss the vaccine with their patients to ensure that they are getting it at the safest time and in the safest manner possible.

References:

1. World Health Organization. Coronavirus dashboard. Accessed Jan. 18, 2021. https://covid19.who.int

2. Foster V. Experts call for people with cancer to receive priority access to COVID-19 vaccines. Forbes. Accessed Jan. 18, 2021https://www.forbes.com/sites/victoriaforster/2020/12/22/experts-call-for-people-with-cancer-to-receive-priority-access-to-covid-19-vaccines/?sh=55274ab57faa.

3. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccines and immunizations. Accessed Jan. 17, 2021 https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/covid-19/info-by-product/clinical-considerations.html