By MSD in the Philippines
Immunizations or vaccines are used to boost the immune system’s ability to identify and protect the body from potential infections.1 This includes severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the causative agent of coronavirus disease (COVID-19).1,2,3
Vaccine rollouts against COVID-19 in the Philippines started in the first quarter of 2021.4 As of January 03, 2022, a total of 109, 309, 588 vaccine doses have been administered as part of the country’s efforts toward herd immunity.4
Individuals from all walks of life are encouraged to get fully vaccinated to improve their protective immunity against the virus. Still, cancer patients and their care providers might have questions surrounding COVID-19 vaccinations.
Here are the answers to some of the common queries regarding COVID-19 immunizations and cancer.
Are COVID-19 Vaccines Safe for Cancer Patients?
Data regarding the safety of COVID-19 vaccines for cancer patients are still emerging.2,3 Those authorized for use by the Philippine Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with an emergency use authorization (EUA), so far, show an acceptable safety and tolerability profile.2
COVID-19 immunizations should be thoroughly discussed by physicians from a hospital for cancer patients in the Philippines before administering it to individuals with malignancy.2 Medical oncologists must carefully assess the vaccination’s risk-benefit profile, considering the patient’s treatment plans and possible contraindications to vaccine components (e.g., allergies).2 It is imperative that the patient, their doctors, and health care team arrive at a mutual decision and informed consent.2
How Effective are COVID-19 Vaccines on People with Cancer?
Similar to data on its safety, information about the COVID-19 immunizations’ efficacy in individuals who may be immunocompromised due to cancer or its treatment is also still emerging.3
Available COVID-19 vaccines have varying effectiveness, but most inoculated individuals may receive protection from developing a severe infection from the disease.2 Experts still advise that cancer patients be vaccinated since they are among the high-risk groups for COVID-19.1,2,3
When is the Ideal Time for Cancer Patients to Get COVID-19 Vaccination?
The PSMO strongly advises patients with cancer or a history of cancer to receive their COVID-19 immunization doses as soon as they are eligible, aligning with recommendations from national and international professional and government entities involved in cancer care.2
As mentioned before, physicians must discuss COVID-19 vaccination extensively with their patients before offering it.2
Is There a Specific Type of Vaccine Recommended for Patients with Cancer?
As of writing, there are no types or brands of COVID-19 vaccines specifically intended for use among cancer patients.2 They may discuss available immunization options with their attending doctor and healthcare team.2
The PSMO, however, does not recommend live or live-attenuated vaccines for immunocompromised individuals, including patients with cancer, as they have a risk of viral replication following administration.2
Presently, none of the available COVID-19 vaccines is developed or contain live or live-attenuated technology.2
What are the Common Side Effects of COVID-19 Vaccinations?
Side effects after COVID-19 vaccination typically occur within two to three days.2 Among the most common ones reported are:
· Soreness2, redness1, or swelling1 at the injection site1
· Fatigue2 or feeling tired1
· Headache1, muscle ache2, or joint pain1
· Fever within 24-48 hours1, 2
· Chills1, 2
Moreover, COVID-19 immunizations that require two doses for their initial series may have side effects that may be a bit stronger after the second injection than the first one.1
As of writing, there have been no recorded cancer-specific post-COVID-19 vaccination symptoms that cancer patients should watch out for.3 However, if they experience side effects for a period longer than the usual observed, they should consult with a doctor right away.
Should Cancer Patients Get a COVID-19 Booster Shot?
Getting a booster shot or third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine may help prolong the efficacy of the protective immunity it gives individuals with a weakened immune system.1 Research has indicated that many fully vaccinated individuals are protected from severe risks of morbidity and mortality from COVID-19, even from newer variants.1 Still, some studies have shown that vaccines may wane in efficacy after a certain period.1
Consequently, it is recommended that individuals who may be immunocompromised, including people with cancer, may receive a booster shot or third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine after completing the initial series.1,3
Like the first two doses, cancer patients must consult with their physicians regarding the administration of the third COVID-19 jab or booster dose.
Do Fully Vaccinated Individuals Still Need to Observe Recommended Health Protocols?
YES. Although vaccines give protective immunity against COVID-19, they do not prevent the individual from contracting or transmitting the virus completely.2,3 Utmost caution should still be observed by cancer patients and their care providers and immediate contact.2,3 They should keep following general health and cleanliness protocols to reduce the chances of catching the disease, such as wearing face masks2,3, maintaining physical distancing2,3, avoiding crowds3, handwashing frequently and properly (20 seconds with soap and water)2, and other national mandated guidelines for COVID-19 prevention2, 3.
Where can Cancer Patients Get More Information?
Vaccines have been shown to give protective immunity against COVID-19 to individuals, including patients with cancer, and they should get immunized as soon as they are eligible.2,3 Likewise, their care providers and immediate contact should receive their full doses as well.2,3
Nevertheless, cancer patients may have more questions about COVID-19 vaccinations. Consulting with their physician from a cancer hospital in Philippines should be their initial step in answering these queries. Additionally, they may check local efforts like MSD’S Hope From Within for more informational resources related to cancer, which may help them with their journey.
1 American Cancer Society (2021). COVID-19 Vaccines in People with Cancer. Retrieved from cancer.org: https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/physical-side-effects/low-blood-counts/infections/covid-19-vaccines-in-people-with-cancer.html. Last Accessed November 26, 2021.
2 Philippine Society of Medical Oncology (2021). COVID-19 Vaccine and Patients with Cancer: The Philippine Society of Medical Oncology (PSMO) Position Statement. Retrieved from psmo.org: https://psmo.org.ph/covid-19-vaccine-and-patients-with-cancer/. Last Accessed November 25, 2021.
3 National Comprehensive Cancer Network (2021). Recommendations of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network® (NCCN®) COVID-19 Vaccination Advisory Committee. Retrieved from nccn.org: https://www.nccn.org/docs/default-source/covid-19/2021_covid-19_vaccination_guidance_v4-0.pdf?sfvrsn=b483da2b_70. Last Accessed November 25, 2021.
4 Department of Health (2022). National COVID-19 Vaccination Dashboard. Retrieved from doh.gov.ph: https://doh.gov.ph/covid19-vaccination-dashboard. Last Accessed January 03, 2022.