Vaccine Hesitancy in Most cancers Sufferers

Ideally, cancer patients who want the shot could get it in their cancer centers rather than a mass distribution location. But a bumpy rollout and age restrictions have frustrated many people with cancer. If the shot is offered, Dr. Brawley still has his patients in active therapy and those in follow-up care. Certainly, they may not react as strongly as someone with an intact immune system. They do receive some protection, however, and are not harmed, as Moderna and Pfizer’s current vaccines are not made from live viruses (like measles, rubella, mumps, and smallpox were). Live virus vaccines must be avoided by severely immunocompromised individuals.

Updated

Apr. 25, 2021, 7:17 p.m. ET

Moderna and Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccines, explains Dr. Brawley, are made from messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) using a new technology. Its genetic material causes the vaccinated person to produce the same proteins that are found in the spikes of the novel coronavirus.

“The vaccinated person’s immune system then recognizes these proteins as foreign and produces antibodies against them,” said Dr. Brawley. “Another immune cell, a dendritic cell, also records the proteins as foreign.”

Dr. William Nelson, director of the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins, agreed that “the worst that can happen to cancer patients vaccinated with the coronavirus vaccine” is “a bad reaction”. The worst reactions are likely to occur in people dealing with B-cell lymphoma and multiple myeloma, he explained, since these therapies often use drugs that target antibody-producing cells in the body. “For people undergoing a bone marrow transplant,” advised Dr. Nelson, vaccinations should likely be scheduled three to six months after the transplant to ensure immune regeneration has occurred.

As important as the vaccines are, Dr. Nelson urged people with cancer as well as their families and friends to “remain vigilant when it comes to wearing masks, social distancing, hand washing, etc.” Because cancer patients often have low white blood cell counts, their symptoms – fever, muscle pain, headache, dry cough – cannot be distinguished from those of Covid-19. “Now these patients must also be quickly tested for the coronavirus and isolated in a suitable facility so that their intravenous antibiotics can be infused.”

When the health authorities in my state of Indiana announced that they would be vaccinating people over 70, I had no problem signing up for an appointment online. When I took my first shot in a small medical facility, it was full of people buoyed by high hopes for widespread, so-called herd immunity. My own optimism has been overshadowed by regular news this winter of maskless receptions, rallies, protests, parties, and raves, as well as face-to-face conversations with people who fear vaccinations in general.

As Eula Biss explained in her brilliant prepandemic book On Immunity, fear of the government, the medical establishment, and public interference with the private establishment can stifle the collective trust that attaining immunity requires. Because cancer patients are often affected by anxiety, they may be particularly prone to these types of anxieties.

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