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Covid vaccines protect patients with cancer against virus, says new study

Julia Bradbury discusses her breast cancer diagnosis

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Initial delays to antibody production are followed by similar levels of vaccine efficacy for cancer patients after a second vaccine dose, reveal the latest findings from five studies presented at the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) Congress 2021.

Public health experts and cancer specialists in the UK have agreed that people living with cancer should receive the vaccine.

The coronavirus vaccines that are available can also be given to most people who are having cancer treatment.

Results presented from an analysis of 3,813 patients with a history of past or active cancer in a randomised controlled trial of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine, revealed that that vaccine efficacy was as strong as in the general population.

The most common side effects of jabs were as mild, and occurred at a similar rate, as in the trial population of 43,331 people.

A delayed antibody response to the vaccination, which was enhanced by prior exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus in patients with cancer, was reported in other studies.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) recommends that anyone immunosuppressed at the time they had their first or second vaccination should be offered a third dose.

People with non-cancer conditions that affect their immune system can have a third dose, Macmillan Cancer Support states.

Findings presented at the ESMO conference also state that a third booster dose may improve immune response in patients with cancer, who do not have sufficient protection after the second dose.

Many patients with cancer were excluded from the clinical trials conducted to develop the vaccines, so there had been questions concerning whether the vaccines were safe, according to researchers.

Macmillan states the vaccines may be slightly less effective for people having chemotherapy or other cancer treatments, “but it is still expected that the vaccine will give useful protection against the virus”.

Nonetheless, another study from the researchers suggests patients with cancer are protected regardless of current oncology treatment.

A total of 791 patients from some hospitals in the Netherlands were enrolled in the study, who were then assigned to four groups.

These consisted of individuals without cancer, patients with cancer treated with immunotherapy, patients treated with chemotherapy and finally patients treated with a chemo-immunotherapy combination.

Their responses to Moderna’s two-dose vaccine were measured

At 28 days after the second dose, adequate levels of antibodies to the virus in the blood were found in 84 percent of patients with cancer receiving chemotherapy, 89 percent of patients receiving chemo-immunotherapy in combination and 93 percent of patients on immunotherapy alone.

Researchers highlighted the importance of ensuring two-dose vaccination for patients with cancer, so that they are able to develop enough protective antibodies.

There are now three coronavirus vaccines currently approved and being rolled out in the UK: Pfizer-BioNTech, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Moderna.

The Janssen vaccine has been approved for use in the UK but is not expected to be available until later this year.

Blood Cancer UK charity states: “Research so far suggests that the Covid vaccines may not work for everyone with blood cancer.”

It adds: “The vaccine can still offer a level of protection however, and some protection is better than none. If you have blood cancer, it’s important to get all the protection you can and have your Covid vaccines, including a third dose if you’ve already had two.”

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