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Why it's important for cancer survivors to get the COVID-19 vaccination

Posted at 1:59 PM, Mar 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-17 15:59:35-04

Although there continues to be a drop in the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, the virus continues to have an impact on people across the state, including cancer patients.

The COVID-19 vaccine is credited for helping bring those numbers down, that's why getting the COVID-19 vaccine is important to help build immunity for people and get the pandemic under control.

It's especially vital for protecting those who have a history of cancer, even if they're not currently receiving treatment.

Anyone who has had a blood or bone cancer such as leukemia, lymphoma, or multiple myeloma in the last five years is currently eligible to get the vaccine in Utah.

Others who were diagnosed within the last year with non-blood cancer, like a solid tumor, are eligible as well.

Mark A. Lewis, MD, oncologist with Intermountain Healthcare, says data show those who have recently had cancer tend to have worse COVID-19 outcomes than other people their age.

Those patients are at greater risk of having severe complications, being hospitalized, and requiring a ventilator.

"Controlling cancer can take a toll on the body and even if you're in remission it's important to give yourself every layer of protection possible," said Dr. Lewis.

There are currently three COVID-19 vaccines that have received emergency use authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration (Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, & Johnson & Johnson).

Studies have shown all three of these vaccines significantly lower the risk of being infected with COVID-19 as well as lowering the risk of severe reaction to the disease if you are infected.

For cancer patients, the main concern is not about if the vaccine is safe, but about how effective it may be because of a possible weakened immune system.

The vaccine might be less effective for some who have had certain cancer treatments like chemotherapy, radiation, stem cell or bone marrow transplant, or immunotherapy – since they affect the immune system.

Despite this, doctors recommend most cancer patients get the vaccine when they are eligible because those with a weakened immune system are at a greater risk for severe complications from the COVID-19 disease.

Dr. Lewis says getting even some protection from the virus is better than no protection at all.
Intermountain is contributing to a national database which tracks the outcomes of cancer patients who have had COVID-19.

Dr. Lewis says while more study is needed, one thing they've noticed is patients currently receiving chemo treatment don't appear to have increased risks of complications, but former cancer patients do. The same consortium has recommended that it be the norm, not the exception, for cancer patients to be vaccinated.

Dr. Lewis says another important reason to get the vaccine is for helping reaching herd immunity which means enough people are vaccinated that the virus can't travel easily and infect new people.

It is estimated that adults who are vaccinated have roughly a 90% lower rate of transmitting the virus to others. This is especially important for anyone who can't receive a vaccine, such as children 15 and under who are currently excluded from receiving the vaccine.

Many expert medical groups recommend that most cancer patients or those with a history of cancer should get a COVID-19 vaccine. However, since every situation and patient is different it's best to discuss the benefits and risks of receiving the vaccine with your cancer doctor.

For more information about vaccines, eligibility, and to schedule an appointment visit