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COVID Vaccination for Cancer Patients

Many cancer patients face symptoms like fatigue and immunodeficiency because of their condition or their treatments and procedures. A common question that arises is “Can I get the COVID vaccine?” or “Should I get vaccinated?” This article outlines what cancer patients should know about getting vaccinated against the coronavirus.


So, should I get vaccinated?

Patients with a compromised immunity often ask this question. If you face weight loss, weakness, or are prone to infection, you may worry that the vaccine may cause more harm than good. In fact, in these cases, it is all the more important that you do get vaccinated and protect yourself against COVID. Contracting COVID with a compromised immunity could be very dangerous and lead to oxygen deficiency and COVID pneumonia.

Of course, it is always important to consult your doctor first and discuss vaccination with them to make sure that none of your treatments will interfere with the vaccine, and vice versa. They will be able to tell you where and when you should get vaccinated, and warn you of any other side effects you may face.


What vaccine should I get?

There are two more common vaccines available in India at the moment, those being Covishield and Covaxin. Both vaccines have been tested and shown to provide significant immunity against COVID. Though both may cause infection after, they will be beneficial in the long-term in reducing your risk of contracting the virus.

The Covishield vaccine is taken in two doses with a 12-16 week gap. The Covaxin vaccine is also taken as two shots, but the gap between them is around 4-6 weeks. You should, again, discuss with your healthcare team as to which vaccine they think would be more suitable for you to take.

Both vaccines have similar side effects, including fatigue and a potential fever. Ensure to stay hydrated while recovering, and take paracetamol if you are facing any pain, soreness, or fever. Take caution: if any treatments deem it unsafe for you to take paracetamol, do not disobey the doctor’s orders. Always discuss medication and dosage with your doctor before self-medicating. Symptoms should not be a problem after a week, but if they persist, let your doctor know.


Doesn’t the Covishield vaccine cause blood clots?

The Covishield vaccine – being made as the Oxford or the AstraZeneca vaccine elsewhere – has shown some cases of forming blood clots, which are very rarely fatal. The risk of developing a blood clot at all is very low, and research linking these clots to the vaccine is still in progress. The vaccine has been tested on lakhs of people, and, in fact, the coronavirus itself induces a higher risk of developing lethal blood clots.


Are the vaccines otherwise safe if I am immunocompromised?

Both the Covishield and the Covaxin vaccines are not live vaccines, meaning they do not contain the live virus. They contain a dead or weak form of the virus, which your body can recognise and fight, so the risk of a dangerous infection is very low. While you may face general side effects like pain and fatigue, you are unlikely to need any kind of treatment, or develop a severe infection, and your immunity will build up.


When should I take the vaccine?

Ideally, you should take the vaccine whenever it is available to you.

For some treatments, like targeted therapies and hormonal therapies, the vaccine may not cause any issues, and can be taken while these treatments are ongoing, or the treatments can be taken a few hours after the vaccination.

For other treatments, especially those affecting the immune system, like immunotherapy and chemotherapy, you may be advised to take the vaccine several weeks before or after the treatment so that your immune system is not overworked, reducing your risk of infection.

If you have a low blood count, due to blood cancer treatment, or other reasons, the vaccine may not be as effective. You should wait for your blood count to increase, some weeks after the treatment, before taking the vaccine.

If you have undergone a stem cell transplant, your immunity will also likely be very low, and you should wait at least three months after treatment before considering taking the vaccine so it is most effective.

Overall, consult your healthcare provider and discuss your upcoming treatment plan, working out when the ideal time for you to get vaccinated is.


So I should get vaccinated?

It is highly recommended for cancer patients to get vaccinated, building up their immunity against COVID, as their immune system is already compromised. This holds even more true, especially for patients with immunodeficiencies. Make sure you take any precautions beforehand, but do keep yourself and others safe by taking the vaccine, and remember that there is nothing to fear.

Despite taking the vaccine, continue to take other cautions, like washing your hands regularly and wearing a mask. Avoid crowded areas and interacting with positively-tested patients. Stay connected with your family and friends in hard times like these, stay informed, and stay safe.

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