Cancer patients have an increased risk of severe illness and death from COVID because their immune systems have been weakened by their disease or treatments. But a new study shows that cancer patients can also benefit from COVID-19 vaccines.
The study included more than 1,000 patients with a variety of solid-organ and blood cancers who had received two doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Thirty-two patients had also received vaccine booster doses.
Cancer patients who received the J&J vaccine had considerably lower immune responses than those who received Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines.
But whichever vaccine is received, most cancer patients’ immune responses are likely sufficient to protect them from severe COVID-19, according to findings published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
“Our data suggest that patients with cancer should receive mRNA vaccines and patients who received the J&J vaccine should be considered for additional vaccine doses,” said co-lead investigator Dr. Justin Gainor, Director, Centre for Thoracic Cancers, Massachusetts General Hospital and associate professor at Harvard Medical School, Boston.
“There was also considerable uncertainty about how active treatment for cancer would affect the efficacy of the vaccines,” Gainor said in a hospital news release.
The study also found that cancer patients who had prior COVID infection had stronger immune responses to vaccination. Older age predicted weaker responses, and immunity triggered by all the vaccines declined over time.
Cancer treatment had a smaller effect on immune responses than the type of vaccine that patients received.