COVID 19 outbreak was declared as a pandemic by the WHO on 11th March 2020 and since then life has never been the same for most of us. The onset of the second wave has shown that things may not be settling down any time soon and we may have to learn to live with the virus for some time.
Healthcare has been the worst affected as the number of patients requiring treatment for COVID 19 continues to increase steadily with resources being diverted for the same. This has profoundly impacted the care of other “non-COVID” patients who have been struggling to get treatment for their diseases. Cancer patients have also been affected for many reasons. Firstly, if diagnosis and treatment of cancer is delayed, it may upstage the disease leading to poorer outcomes. Secondly, treatment of cancer using various drugs including chemotherapy may lead to a lower immunity and a greater susceptibility to effects of COVID -19. Various preliminary studies have shown an increase in severe complications and deaths with COVID in cancer patients. Finally, cancer patients need to regularly travel and visit hospitals for their ongoing treatment putting them at an increased risk of exposure to the virus.
In India currently two vaccines are available - The AstraZeneca / serum institute ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine (Covishield) and the Bharat biotech inactivated SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, BBV152 (Covaxin). Both the vaccines have shown safety and efficacy in clinical trials. However most clinical trial patients have not included patients with cancer. So limited data are available regarding the safety and efficacy of these vaccines in cancer afflicted patients.
There is a concern about using live vaccines in patients with low immunity, however, none of these are live vaccines. The other concern is whether these patients will mount any immune response to the vaccine in view of their compromised immune status.
Due to the increased risk of severe illness and mortality due to COVID in cancer patients it is recommended that all cancer patients above the age of 18 years should get vaccinated against COVID. The schedule of vaccine will depend on the kind of cancer and the type of chemotherapy. It is advisable to consult your oncologist before going for vaccination.