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Audio | 02:59

Infectious disease specialist Mini Kamboj explains why it is important for people with cancer to get vaccinated.

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The current pandemic is critical that our patients be protected with the vaccine.  Patients with cancer as a group have been shown to be at a higher risk of severe COVID-19.  This has been repeatedly observed in clinical studies, especially in patients with blood cancers, lung tumors, and those with metastatic disease.

Also, COVID infection, regardless of how it manifests, whether it's mild or moderate or severe, can be a setback in many other ways.  It may lead to significant and devastating delays in treatment, diagnosis, whether it is chemotherapy, or an upcoming surgery, or surveillance scans.  And such delays can be overall detrimental to cancer care.

Although evidence regarding the effectiveness of the COVID vaccines in patients with cancer is limited at this time.  There's enough evidence and expert opinion to support vaccination in general, even if you're undergoing chemotherapy, or any other form of cancer treatment.  This is the current recommendation by the CDC for cancer patients, and also the recommendation by leading professional oncology societies. 

There's sufficient evidence out there that vaccines are safe.  Vaccines are effective, not only from clinical studies, but now also from the very encouraging real-world experience.

So, the timing of vaccination in relation to treatment depends on the individual type of therapy and the underlying cancer.  We currently do not have data on how cancer treatment influences the effectiveness of vaccine.

For example, is there a difference in how well the vaccine would work if you take it between chemotherapy or immunotherapy cycles or during treatment, we simply do not have the answers at this time.

What we do know is from other vaccine is that even if your immune response is blunted from cancer treatment, vaccination can still offer protection.  All situations are unique and for specific questions related to your treatment, patients should reach out to their medical providers.

A few other points I would like to make about treatment and vaccination are that if you're undergoing a major surgery, it is perhaps a good idea to get vaccinated either well before the operation and avoid the vaccine in the first week or so until you're fully recovered from the surgery.

And if you've recently undergone a stem cell transplant, or what we call CAR T-cellular therapy, within the last year, you will be asked to reach out to your doctor to decide when you should get vaccinated.