Breast Cancer Patients and COVID-19 Vaccinations

Updated: Jan 18


Should breast cancer patients receive one of the new COVID-19 vaccines? Several of these COVID-19 Vaccines are now available on a sliding scale throughout the United States and elsewhere. Breast (and other) Cancer patients are asking “is it safe for me to get the vaccine”? This safety issue has proven to be quite confusing and adds to the stress level of those very patients. Other questions abound including “is it safe for me to get the vaccine while still in active treatment”?


Background On The Vaccines


At the present time, there are two vaccines being administered in the US. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines recently received approval from the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) following extensive trials, with each involving many thousands of participants. The science behind these trials was highly scrutinized and an independent body gave both the approval necessary to allow for high-speed production, storage and implementation. (Note: the cancer community was minimally represented in these trials). Both vaccines are believed to be 94+% effective. Apparently, the only vaccine with a greater efficacy is the measles vaccine that comes in at the 98th percentile.


It is well known that cancer and the corresponding treatments have the tendency to diminish a patient’s immune system. Does this make them more vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus or to vaccine? And how about metastatic breast cancer patients? All great questions.


“The Centers for Disease Control has a committee that determines how to equitably distribute all vaccines. Known as the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, or ACIP, it currently recommends COVID-19 vaccines be distributed in phases and tiers. Dr. Steve Pergam, director of infection prevention at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, said the vaccine is going first to the groups most at risk: health care workers, people in long-term care facilities, people over 75 and front line essential workers.”[1] Then come people with additional medical issues, such as cancer.


At a recent survivingbreastcancer.org - Thursday Night Thrivers Meet Up, we queried our community to see if they 1)planned on getting the vaccine, 2) already received the vaccine and 3) if they had the vaccination, which vaccine did they get and 4) did they experience any side effects. We acknowledge that our survey was not scientific but it did serve to help inform our community and provide an engaging conversation for share and tell. Several members, including an ICU nurse, and an ER physician had received one or the other vaccines and only one experienced exhaustion side effects. Her fatigue and headaches lasted approximately 36 hours, but now she feels fine and more importantly didn’t miss work in the ICU (Thank you to all of front line workers!)


So is the vaccine safe and should cancer patients avail themselves to them? Scientists and doctors involved in the studies feel strongly that the vaccines are safe and that everyone should get vaccinated. At Survivingbreastcancer.org we do advise you to research the issue and discuss with your medical team care team directly. They have also have recommendations to receive the vaccination in-between treatment cycles etc. We do plan to get vaccinated and will keep everyone updated on when and what the experience is like!


References

[1] https://www.fredhutch.org/en/news/center-news/2021/01/cancer-patients-covid19-vaccine-coronavirus.html

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