ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine expanded to those with cancer in New York State on February 14. However, for those battling cancer and their doctors, the timing of those vaccine doses is more complicated than just snagging a coveted appointment.
According to the CDC, those with cancer are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Yet, many cancer patients are unsure if they should get the vaccine because of their treatments, surgeries, and even how cancer cells work in the body.
Dr. Ajaz M. Khan, the Medical Director for Oncology at St. Peter’s Health Partners, said it’s a matter of when cancer patients should receive the vaccine rather than if they should get it at all.
Khan said one rule could apply to every patient undergoing cancer treatments like radiation, chemotherapy, or surgery in terms of the timing of getting the vaccine. Still, there are many considerations for oncologists when scheduling a dose.
“We want to make sure we protect them before they start treatments, said Khan. “If they’re on treatment, we want to make sure we can give them the shot when it works in terms of mounting immune response.”
According to the National Cancer Institute, patients receiving a stem cell transplant and CAR T-cell therapy should wait three months until getting the COVID-19 vaccine. However, recommendations for those receiving chemotherapy are more complex and depend on the rate and aggression treatments.
Khan said he advises patients to get the vaccine as far apart from the chemotherapy treatments as possible.
However, for patients receiving intensive chemotherapy treatment regimens for severe cancers like leukemia or lymphoma, the vaccine should be delayed.
“We want to make sure we are not delaying life-saving treatments. So those treatments we want to do as quickly as possible,” said Khan. “And once they have a normal lymphocyte population returning, then we give them the shot.”
Because every cancer patient is different and has different health needs to be prioritized, Khan recommended a consultation with an oncologist to create an individualized gameplan for getting the COVID-19 vaccine.