The Covid-19 pandemic continues to have a serious impact on many people, including Cancer patients, their families, and caregivers. Currently, the biggest worry gripping Cancer patients and their caregivers is whether getting vaccinated against Covid-19 is safe or not.
Vaccines are developed to help a person’s immune system recognize and protect the body against infections. When India began its vaccination drive in January 2021, many expert medical groups recommended that most patients with Cancer or a history of Cancer should get vaccinated against Covid-19. This makes a lot of sense as the sole purpose of vaccination is to improve immunity among people. However, every person’s medical history is unique, and every Cancer patient has a different level of resistance & disease-fighting power; so here’s is what you should know.
Things to consider for cancer patients: There are two elements to this discussion. One for Cancer survivors and the other for those undergoing Cancer treatment currently. For Cancer survivors, it is best recommended that they take the vaccine as they are already on the path to recovery.
Patient’s who’ve undergone Cancer surgery: People who have undergone Cancer surgery should consult with their doctors before getting vaccinated. Your type of Cancer and treatment also determines the risk factors, benefits, timelines, and what you should know before receiving your first dose.
For patients receiving Chemotherapy or the Immune-Suppressing Treatment: People undergoing treatment such as Chemotherapy, and Radiation should keep of the gap of at 5-7 days from their last session. It is important to take the vaccine at a time with your white blood counts (WBC) and blood platelets are not low. Therefore, a Complete Blood Count (CBC) needs to be done before getting vaccinated.
Patients with Leukemia: It may be appropriate to delay vaccination until after completion of very intensive Chemotherapy treatments such as those given as induction therapy for acute Leukemia; speaking with your doctor is crucial in such cases.
Patients undergoing Stem Cell Therapy: Patients who are within three months of an Autologous Stem Cell Transplant, Allogeneic Stem Cell Transplant or CART Cell Therapy, should time their vaccination in consultation with their doctor. In addition, those with severe Graft versus Host Disease and those with low B-cell counts should discuss with their provider whether vaccination should be delayed.
Patients who have undergone Breast Cancer surgery: Vaccination is usually given on the left shoulder, but if a patient has undergone left breast removal, then it is a must that the vaccination should be taken on the right side and not on the left. If both breasts have been removed, then the vaccine shot should be either taken on the thigh or the hips.
How do the vaccines work? In India, there are three vaccines that are made available:
Covaxin: This is an inactivated vaccine that has been developed using Whole-Virion Inactivated Vero Cell-derived platform technology. They contain dead viruses -- incapable of infecting people but still able to instruct the immune system to mount a defensive reaction against an infection. The efficacy of this vaccine is therefore maintained
Covishield: This is also known as ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 (Adenovirus) or AZD1222, the vaccine is based on a weakened version of a common cold virus or the adenovirus that is found in chimpanzees. This viral vector contains the genetic material of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein — protrusions present on the outer surface of the virus that help it bind with the human cell. Such vaccines have the potential to provide full protection from Influenza infection by inhibiting viral replication.
Spitnik V: This is developed by the Gamaleya National Research Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology & the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF). The vaccine is developed based on the well-studied platform of human adenoviral vectors and uses two different vectors for the two jabs for vaccination.
It’s crucial that we all continue to follow safety recommendations, including handwashing, following social & physical distancing guidelines, and continue wearing a double mask even after getting vaccinated.
(Dr Anil Heroor is the Head-Surgical Oncology, Fortis Hospital, Mumbai & Fortis Hiranandani Hospital, Vashi)