COVID-19 Vaccination: Oncology Nurses Share Their Thoughts

Patients with cancer may be more susceptible to COVID-19. As oncology nurses await the approval of a vaccine, they shared their thoughts with Oncology Nursing News.

As many states in the United States are facing a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers and pharmaceutical companies are working with governmental agencies to get a vaccine on the American market as soon as possible.

Public and private sectors are working together like never before thanks to the creation of Operation Warp Speed (OWS), a partnership joining the forces of the US Department of Health and Human Services, the FDA, the National Institutes of Health, the CDC, the Biomedical Research and Development Authority, Department of Defense, private firms, and other agencies. The goal of OWS is to develop, manufacture, and distribute a COVID-19 vaccine as fast as possible.

OWS’ goal is to have a vaccine available by January 2021. There are current 3 that have been selected for funding for phase 3 trials: mRNA-1273 (manufactured by Moderna), AZD1222 (manufactured by University of Oxford and AstraZeneca), and BNT162 (manufactured by Pfizer and BioNTech).

As vaccines get closer to FDA approval, oncology nurses — and health care providers around the nation – are sharing their thoughts.

“I feel pretty certain that it will be mandatory [from my workplace] for me to get the vaccine. If it weren’t and I didn’t take care of vulnerable people, I would still get it,” Rebecca Trupp, RN, OCN told Oncology Nursing News.

Providers may consider their patients when making the decision of whether or not to get the vaccine — especially those who treat patients with cancer, who may already have weakened immune systems and be more susceptible to COVID-19. Recent researcher showed that cancer is independently associated with mortality in patients admitted to the hospital with COVID-19.

Additionally, some patients seem to be even more at risk for getting COVID-19 to begin with. Studies showed that minorities and patients with blood cancer had a higher infection rate than the general population.

However, as the vaccine is being approved far faster than traditional medications, which typically take years of review before being approved, some people are nervous about potential adverse events (AEs), especially for the long-term AEs that researchers may not see in such a short clinical trial period.

“If I were doing a primarily [administrative] job and not exposed to people with cancer, then I would most likely wait to see if other side effects were discovered after the first mass vaccination effort,’ Trupp said.

“I am interested in taking it, but I do not think I want to be one of the first, despite being a health care provider,” Anne Marie Sheftac, NP-C, AOCNP, RN, said.

“[A vaccine] does not eliminate [the need for] social distancing or wearing a mask until the majority of US citizens are vaccinated. It is important that we, as health care providers, review and understand the data surrounding the trials, not only for ourselves, but in educating and adocating for our patients. There are still many unanswered questions surrounding COVID and the vaccine that we do not understand,” she said.

But still, the benefits of a vaccine could extend far beyond any potential complications.

“I plan on taking it,” David Leos, MBA, RN, OCN said. “My institution is offering it, but not mandating it. As far as concerns [go], from what I’ve heard and read, I feel that the potential benefits seem to outweigh the risks.”