This article will contribute some information on the COVID-19 vaccine, its safety, and precautions for patients with cancer.
In the light of challenging and rapidly increasing COVID-19 cases, having cancer increases your risk of severe infection with this deadly virus. While this COVID-19 vaccination is offering a way to end this pandemic crisis, a concern is arising whether it is safe for patients with cancer to take the vaccine.
Vaccines help a person's immune system recognize the virus or bacteria and protect the body against the same virus or bacteria in case they attack the body in the future.
COVID-19 mRNA vaccine instructs our body cells to make a spike protein. The spike protein is found on the surface of the Coronavirus. When the person's immune system recognizes the protein that does not belong to the body, it produces antibodies like how it would happen in a natural infection against COVID-19. Like other vaccines, mRNA vaccines gain protection without ever having to risk the effects of getting sick with COVID-19. These mRNA vaccines in no way use live viruses.
Certain types of cancer and various cancer treatments affect the patient's immune system. People with weakened immune systems should not take any vaccine that contains live viruses. The vaccines that contain live viruses can cause infections in people with weak immune systems that can even become life-threatening. So make sure you consult your healthcare professional before getting vaccinated.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone above the age of 16 years should take the COVID-19 vaccines, so this includes people with cancer.
Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine is given for people above the age of 16. It is a two-shot vaccine. It is administered in two doses three weeks apart. It also gained emergency use authorization for children aged 5 through 11 years and older.
Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine is given for people who are above the age of 18. It is also a two-shot vaccine. It is offered in two doses four weeks apart.
Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine is a single-shot vaccine. It is given to people above the age of 18 as a single shot.
The side effects that are commonly experienced after getting vaccinated with COVID-19 vaccines are,
Pain at the injection site.
Swollen lymph nodes.
These side effects, which are generally mild, go away within a few days. However, in the case of two-shot vaccines, the side effects may be slightly intense after the second shot.
The major concern about getting vaccinated is not whether the vaccine is safe for patients with cancer but how effective the vaccines will be, particularly for people with weakened immune responses. Some cancer treatments like chemotherapy, radiotherapy, stem cell transplant or bone marrow transplant, or immunotherapy can affect the immune system, which affects the effectiveness of the vaccine. Patients with certain types of cancer like leukemia and lymphoma can also have weakened immune systems.
Patients with cancer or with a previous history of cancer can get vaccines, but this depends on the type of vaccine, the type of cancer they have or previously had, and if the immune system is working effectively. So it is better to consult your physician before getting vaccinated with the COVID-19 vaccine.
Certain people may develop swelling of lymph nodes under their arms where the injection was given. A swollen lymph node is also a sign of breast cancer. So health experts recommend people with breast cancer get the injection on the opposite side of their breast that is affected by cancer. If surgery was done on both breasts, then it is better to consult your healthcare professional before getting vaccinated.
There are chances of developing swollen lymph nodes after the vaccination. And if a mammogram is taken after the vaccination, then these swollen lymph nodes will show up on the mammogram, which will lead to misdiagnosis. So it is better to inform the healthcare professional about the vaccination and the arm in which the injection was given, which will avoid further confusion and misdiagnosis. And at the same time, do not delay your mammogram. Experts recommend that people wait for 4 to 6 weeks after completing their vaccine doses before getting a mammogram to avoid false-positive results.
In case you are taking steroids as a part of the cancer treatment, you need to consult your healthcare professional about the vaccination, as corticosteroids can lower the response to COVID-19 vaccines.
The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are mRNA vaccines, whereas Johnson & Johnson vaccines are adenovirus. The major and only difference between these vaccines is that the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are two-shot vaccines, while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a single-shot vaccine. These vaccines have undergone multiple trials and testing for safety, but it is not yet clear if any of the vaccines are safer and effective than the other. All three vaccines are effective in lowering the chances of getting COVID-19.
Health experts do not recommend getting one type of vaccine over the other for any specific type of person. The same goes for people with cancer. Hence healthcare professionals and national authorities recommend taking the available COVID-19 vaccine rather than waiting for any particular type of vaccine.
Studies are still being conducted regarding these COVID-19 vaccines. Health experts and researchers are still trying to find out how long the COVID-19 vaccines will help protect against the virus, and if vaccinated, how well it will help to prevent the spread of the virus to others.
As there is limited data about these COVID-19 vaccines, it is always better to consult your healthcare professional before getting vaccinated. And also, inform the vaccine provider about your health condition before getting vaccinated. But now, health experts recommend an additional third dose of vaccine (Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna) for people with compromised immunity in conditions like cancer, cancer treatment, etc., four weeks after the second dose. And a booster dose six months after the third dose is also recommended for these people.
We should remain cautious about COVID-19, particularly those people with cancer. It is vital to be aware of the fact that some people with cancer will have weakened immune systems, which can make the COVID-19 vaccines less effective. However, health experts and national authorities have tested the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines. Nevertheless, it is still difficult to say if patients with cancer will have the same level of effectiveness. So it is very crucial to follow all the guidelines and precautions for a while longer, like wearing double masks, washing hands frequently with soap and water, and social distancing.
Last reviewed at:
03 Jan 2022 - 5 min read
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