The COVID-19 and Cancer Coalition Tackles Vaccines

May 3, 2021
A medical worker wearing a mask examines the arm of a patient who is also wearing a mask

Editor's Note: This blog was updated on August 16, 2021.

More than a year after the COVID-19 pandemic began, many cancer patients and survivors continue to find it challenging to receive important cancer care and support services. They have also experienced barriers to care such as financial strain and mental health stressors like anxiety and depression. Evidence regarding the short- and long-term effects of the pandemic on people impacted by cancer is evolving. This evidence must be captured to create lessons learned and ultimately solutions.

An ongoing Cancer Support Community (CSC) study investigates the impact of COVID-19 on cancer patients and survivors’ physical, social, and emotional well-being. It also investigates any disruption or delay to their cancer-related healthcare during the pandemic. The study aims to identify sociodemographic (such as age, ethnicity, and sex), medical, and personality characteristics that may play a role in coronavirus-related hardships and experiences. The first wave of the study (conducted between September and December 2020) revealed many important findings about the pandemic’s impact on people with cancer, including:

  • 54% of survey participants report that COVID-19 has had a very negative or extremely negative impact on their lives
  • 40% of participants reported experiencing some type of disruption in their cancer care due to COVID-19, including 4% who believe they experienced a delay in diagnosis
    • The most common types of medical delays included imaging services, lab services, and routine screenings, with more than 10% of participants experiencing each of these
    • Nearly half of those who experienced delay in treatment had a delay in chemotherapy (46%)
  • Participants currently in cancer treatment expressed:
    • More negative COVID-19 impact
    • Slightly more COVID-19-related concerns
    • More delay in health care

The pandemic’s ongoing impact on people with cancer prompted CSC to organize the COVID-19 and Cancer Coalition, a group of nearly 40 key cancer patient and provider organizations. This coalition works to understand the pandemic’s impact on the cancer community and develop evidence-based solutions in response.

Get more details about the COVID-19 and Cancer Coalition

 

Status of COVID-19 Vaccines for People With Cancer

In addition to the challenges outlined above, access to COVID-19 vaccines is top of mind for many people, especially those impacted by cancer. When we asked cancer patients "What are you MOST concerned about in the future, in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic?" the most frequently occurring word among the open-response answers from study participants was “vaccine.” The COVID-19 and Cancer Coalition met recently with vaccine experts Hemi Tewarson from the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy and Amy Pisani from Vaccinate Your Family. This meeting provided coalition members with the opportunity to discuss barriers to vaccine access as well as access challenges as states begin to open eligibility to all adults and the U.S. moves towards a vaccine surplus.

During the event, Hemi spoke about the vaccine distribution efforts across the nation and how states have been prioritizing people with preexisting conditions, such as cancer. Amy shared vaccine information and resources as well as the priorities in Vaccinate Your Family’s State of the ImmUnion, which examines the federal policies necessary to protect people against vaccine-preventable diseases including COVID-19. In addition, both experts discussed vaccine practices needed to promote health equity, including:

  • Community outreach and strategies for reducing barriers to vaccine access for people who have been historically underserved by the health care system
  • The need to simplify vaccine registration and scheduling

What is the federal government doing to help people impacted by COVID-19?

 

On August 13, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) recommended that people who are moderately to severely immunocompromised receive an additional (third) dose of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine after their initial 2 doses. This recommendation includes people who:

  • Are receiving active cancer treatment (chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, etc.) for solid tumors or blood cancers
  • Have received a CAR-T cell or stem cell transplant within the last 2 years

Visit the CDC’s website for more information on the recommendation. CSC encourages you to speak to your health care team to see if a third dose is right for you. For more information on COVID-19 and cancer, visit the National Cancer Institute website.

CSC supports patient self-determination. People impacted by cancer, in collaboration with their loved ones and health care team, should be empowered to make well-informed decisions regarding their own health care and have the right to know if their medical team is vaccinated for COVID-19, should they choose to ask.

We will continue to share important information about the COVID-19 and Cancer Coalition and our COVID-19 study findings with the cancer community. If you have any questions or would like to learn more about the coalition, please contact action@cancersupportcommunity.org.