UK HealthCare

Markey Cancer Center Encourages COVID-19 Vaccinations for Cancer Patients

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Vaccine being prepared
UK HealthCare physicians

LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 12, 2021) — With COVID-19 vaccinations continuing to roll out across the country, the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center strongly encourages both cancer survivors, caregivers and patients in active cancer treatment to receive one of the available vaccines. This is in line with recommendations from both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Cancer Society.

As of Monday, April 5, any Kentuckian age 16 and up is eligible to get the Pfizer vaccine. The Moderna vaccine is available to anyone age 18 and older.

"Given the higher rates of severe COVID-19 infection in cancer patients, the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the CDC recommend that cancer patients strongly consider vaccination against COVID-19," said Dr. Frederick R. Ueland, gynecologic oncologist and director of oncology clinical operations at the UK Markey Cancer Center. "This includes cancer survivors, most patients undergoing cancer treatments and their caregivers and household contacts."

“The National Cancer Institute and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network recommend all solid tumor patients receiving chemotherapy, checkpoint inhibitors or other immunotherapy, and/or radiation receive COVID-19 vaccination as soon as possible,” said Dr. Susanne M. Arnold, Markey medical oncologist and associate director of clinical translation.  “We do suggest that those undergoing major surgery separate their vaccination at least a few days from the date of surgery to avoid fever or other side effects from the vaccine on the surgery day.”

While vaccination is recommended for all patients receiving active therapy, there are additional recommendations for certain blood cancer patients: those who have undergone intensive cytotoxic chemotherapy for acute leukemias should wait until their blood work shows that their white blood cell counts have recovered before getting the vaccine. Additionally, patients who have received a hematopoietic cell transplantation (also known as bone marrow transplant) or engineered cellular therapy (e.g. CAR-T cells) should delay their COVID-19 vaccine for three months following treatment to maximize the efficacy of the vaccine. 

"Patients who are unsure or severely immunocompromised, including those who have had bone marrow transplantation or CAR-T therapy, should discuss the risks and benefits with their oncologist before being vaccinated," Ueland said. 

Because the initial COVID-19 vaccine trials did not enroll people who may have weakened immune systems (from disease or from a treatment, like chemotherapy), data on the safety and efficacy of the vaccines in these people is limited. However, most experts recommend that cancer patients get the vaccine, because even if the vaccine is less effective than it would be in patients with healthy immune systems, some protection is better than none.

“I’ve taken the vaccine, and I encourage everyone to do so,” Arnold said. “Your participation can save other people’s lives by decreasing the spread of this terrible virus in our community, increasing the immunity of our state and nation overall, and it can also save your life.”

Patients can further protect themselves by asking members of their household, close contacts and caregivers to get vaccinated.

If you are undergoing active cancer treatment and have any questions or concerns about your specific situation, talk to your oncologist or a member of your care team.

To register to receive a vaccine through UK, visit ukvaccine.org. You may also call 859-218-0111 and someone will assist you. Once you are registered and vaccines become available, you will receive an invitation to schedule a day and time to receive your vaccination.

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.