Survey: One-third of people with blood cancer unlikely to get COVID-19 vaccine
Nearly one-third of people diagnosed with blood cancers indicated they either are unlikely to get a COVID-19 vaccine or are unsure about doing so, survey results released today by Leukemia & Lymphoma Society showed.
The results are “worrisome” given increasing evidence that people who have or survived a hematologic malignancy are at higher risk for severe outcomes if they contract the novel coronavirus, according to Gwen Nichols, MD, chief medical officer of Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
“[Patients with blood cancer] are much more likely than the general population to face serious symptoms — and even death — if they develop COVID-19,” Nichols told Healio. “For most patients, the benefits of vaccination will vastly outweigh any risks. We need all doctors who work with [patients with cancer] to reinforce this message.”
Leukemia & Lymphoma Society collaborated on the nationwide survey with Boston University Questrom School of Business and The Behaviouralist, a London-based research consultancy.
People with active blood cancer and survivors included in the society’s database were surveyed during the first 3 weeks of December, during which time the FDA granted emergency use authorization to two COVID-19 vaccines.
In total, 6,516 people (mean age, 64 years) responded. More than half (59.8%) were female; 86% identified as white, 6.5% identified as Black or African American, and 4.7% identified as Hispanic as Latino/Latina. Most respondents (70%) had an associate degree or higher.
Seventy percent of respondents indicated they were either very likely (50%) or likely (20%) to get a COVID-19 vaccine. However, 9% indicated they were unlikely to get a vaccine and 8% indicated they were very unlikely to do so. The remaining 13% indicated they were neither likely nor unlikely to get vaccinated.
The most common explanations for respondents’ reluctance related to concerns about adverse effects or that the vaccines had not been tested properly.
“[Patients with cancer] weren’t included in the COVID-19 vaccine trials, which may be one reason why some patients feel uncertain about vaccination,” Nichols told Healio. “As health care professionals, we must explain to [patients with cancer] that all evidence suggests the COVID-19 vaccines are as safe for them as any other vaccine.
“Our greater concern is whether the COVID-19 vaccines are as effective in [people with cancer],” she added. “Depending on their treatment, it’s possible a vaccinated [person with cancer] won’t mount the same immune response as someone who doesn’t have cancer. The bottom line is: We just don’t know.”
There have been reports that people with active cancer and cancer survivors have had difficulty obtaining COVID-19 vaccines. In February, a group of 130 cancer centers, professional societies, advocacy organizations and other entities sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging that people with active cancer and cancer survivors be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccines.
The society intends to repeat the survey soon to reevaluate COVID-19 vaccine access for people with cancer and their attitudes toward vaccination.
Leukemia & Lymphoma Society also launched a national patient registry designed to improve understanding of how the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 vaccination affect people with blood cancer.
Patients are encouraged to share their data with the LLS National Patient Registry to help inform public health strategies that maximize protection against the coronavirus and provide insights to counsel people with blood cancer about COVID-19 vaccination.
Patients or health care providers who want more information about this effort or want to participate are encouraged to go to www.lls.org/registry.