Cancer Patients and Cancer Survivors – Should they undergo COVID-19 Vaccination?

“Doctor, should I take the Coronavirus Vaccine?” At this current time, this is perhaps the most common question asked by my cancer patients.

The short answer is a clear “YES”.

A common concern is the effect of cancer and cancer treatment on immunity, and the potential problems vaccination can have on such an immunocompromised person.

Firstly, COVID 19 vaccines do not adversely impact most patients with cancer, including those on cancer treatment.  In fact, cancer patients are at high risk for complications in case of COVID 19 infection, and are a priority group for vaccination.

In patients undergoing surgery for cancer, we recommend not to take the vaccine very close to the date of surgery – the simple reason being that an adverse event following immunization (AEFI) may lead to postponing surgery, or AEFI may be confused with a postoperative complication. Following recovery from surgery, they are encouraged to undergo vaccination if not already vaccinated earlier.

Most patients undergoing standard chemotherapy treatments can safely undergo vaccination, but care should be taken to vaccinate them only when their blood counts are normal. In certain cases, eg. stem cell transplant for leukemia, or certain intensive chemotherapy protocols, it may be prudent to defer chemotherapy.

Most patients undergoing radiotherapy can safely undergo COVID immunization, unless the radiation is extensive enough to cause bone marrow depletion.

Cancer survivors (those who have completed treatment and have recovered) are at no greater risk from AEFI as the general population, and are encouraged to get vaccinated. Breast cancer patients should preferably take the vaccine in the arm opposite the side of the affected breast.

To summarize, most patients with cancer can and should undergo COVID 19 immunization.  However, it is advisable to consult your oncologist before vaccination.