At The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), we hear from blood cancer patients and caregivers each day about the profound effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on their cancer care, treatment, and daily lives. As a patient-focused leader in the scientific and medical community, we are encouraged by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) decision to grant emergency use authorization (EUA) to the first COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S.
The vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech is authorized by the FDA for use in people age 16 years and older. Because the initial vaccine supply is limited, the CDC has prioritized healthcare personnel and residents of long-term care facilities in the initial vaccination phase, with additional direction on priorities groups for vaccination to follow.
This news marks an important step forward in the fight against COVID-19. Blood cancer patients are among those who are at increased risk of developing more severe illness from the virus that causes COVID-19. Blood cancers affect people of all backgrounds and ages, and patients face unique health considerations. We encourage blood cancer patients, caregivers and families to start a conversation about COVID-19 vaccination with their oncologist or other healthcare providers as early as possible so they can make an informed plan of action when a vaccine becomes available to them.
LLS also urges blood cancer patients to take every precaution they can today to prevent infection with the COVID virus, such as wearing a mask, maintaining social distancing and frequent hand washing. Emerging data continues to confirm a higher rate of complications and death from COVID-19 for patients with blood cancers.
While the news of the approval is encouraging, and the pace of progress gives us all reason to be optimistic, more research is needed to determine the safety and efficacy of this and other COVID-19 vaccines for cancer patients. People with serious health conditions such as cancer, and people with weakened immune systems, were not included in many of the COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials.
LLS urges that over the coming months, clinical trials continue to expand to include blood cancer patients of all ages – including pediatric patients – and those who are immunosuppressed due to treatment like chemotherapy. Cancer treatment can affect how a patient’s immune system responds to the virus, as well as vaccines intended to prevent infection. Careful attention to timing in relation to where patients are in their treatment plan and their level of response will provide the medical and scientific communities with additional, critical data on how well these vaccines work and who should receive them.
We know blood cancer patients and families need our help now more than ever. If you’re a blood cancer patient, caregiver, survivor, family member or healthcare professional, know that you are not alone and support is available to you. Please contact LLS Information Specialists – highly trained oncology professionals – for free, one-on-one support today at (800) 955-4572 or by live chat/email here.