Like (doctor) Mom, like (doctor) daughter. We did it for each other.
It has been one week since my 2nd dose of my (Pfizer) COVID-19 vaccine. The side effects I experienced were limited to about one day of arm soreness, which I am so grateful to report as one of the first cancer patients to have received a vaccine.
ICMYI my first dose on December 21, 2020 ->
I was fortunate to receive it from via my employer at one of the hospitals I work at. Like many ER doctors, although I work at ER’s that are part of a hospital, I am not a employed by the hospital. Rather, I work for a small democratic group of doctors that is contracted by the hospitals I physically work in. Some ER doctors work locums tenens (think travel doctor) and are also not employed directly by hospitals.
Since the COVID-19 vaccines have been dispersed primarily to hospitals for their employees, some of these ER doctors are facing challenges in accessing the vaccine despite meeting criteria for “1A” category of individuals who should be vaccinated right now because they are not directly employed by the hospital. In this regard, I feel additionally fortunate to have had access to the vaccine, based on my group’s relationship with the hospitals.
Furthermore, my experience with the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines at my hospital was smooth. Out of a lottery of over 5,500 employees, I received the 98th position and was able to easily schedule my appointments. The day of administration process was also efficient. I showed up, got my vaccine and was out within a span of 10 minutes.
Deciding whether to accept the vaccine or not, though, was a more arduous task. Regardless of my belief in science, in this situation I had to consider the risks of subjecting myself to the unknown. We can make educated guesses on who may or may not be a candidate for the vaccine but as many things in medicine, nothing is definite. There’s theory and then there’s reality.
Having received one of the earlier slots in my health systems COVID vaccine lottery, I had about 3 days to decide. Coincidentally, in those days the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) held a webinar on the “COVID-19 Vaccine & Patients with Cancer ” with a panel of experts in both fields.
Regarding cancer patients receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) has released the following recommendations (edited for brevity):
Should people with cancer be vaccinated against COVID-19?
“At this time, patients with cancer may be offered vaccination against COVID-19 as long as components of that vaccine are not contraindicated.”
Should people undergoing active treatment for cancer be vaccinated against COVID-19?
”At this time, patients undergoing treatment may be offered vaccination against COVID-19 as long as any components of the vaccine are not contraindicated.”
Should cancer survivors be vaccinated against COVID-19?
“Cancer survivors may be offered vaccination against COVID-19 as long as any components of the vaccine are not contraindicated.”
Are there people who should not be vaccinated?
“At this time, only those with contraindications to a specific vaccine component should not be offered vaccination with that specific product.”
The full ASCO COVID-19 Vaccine & Patients with Cancer statement, including the webinar with expert panel discussion can be accessed here -> http://bit.ly/ASCOCOVIDVaccinePatientswithCancer
It honestly didn’t tell me much I didn’t already know, but these were one of the first more formal recommendations regarding the COVID-19 vaccines and cancer patients, specifically, and at least provided a guide for a discussion for providers to have with their patients. I can’t tell you whether you should get the COVID vaccine or not. This a personal decision which requires and individualized approach. I encourage you to stay informed and stay healthy by having an open conversation with your physicians (as I did with my oncologist) about your questions and concerns to help you make your decision.
**You can also refer to my IG stories “COVID-19” highlights for reputable sources breaking down the latest COVID data and what it means for patients.**
I’m a list-maker and I turn to lists often, including when making major life decisions. A simple pros and cons list helps me break down complicated or important decisions. In medicine, when deciding whether to pursue a particular therapy or not, we create a similar list with risks and benefits. Here’s an example of items from my risks vs benefits list I made when deciding whether to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
I ALSO discussed the following considerations with my oncologist:
- What do we know about the vaccines
- What is a mRNA vaccine and how does it work
- Data from vaccine trials
- Short term side effects
- What do we NOT know about the vaccines
- Effects in patients currently (or recently) on immune suppressing medications
- Effectiveness in cancer patients
- Long term side effects
- What about me
- How long ago I completed chemotherapy
- Current evaluation of my immune system
- How effective will the vaccine be for me
- And always -> what would you? (my oncologist got her vaccine the following week – she’s not a cancer patient but I respect those who practice what they preach).
Glad to say, so far so good! My experience will be one example of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine administration in a person recently on chemotherapy. Stay tuned for updates.
Kavita Jackson, MD