Steven Pergam, MD, MPH, associate professor of the vaccine and infectious disease division at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, WA, and infection prevention director at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, co-led a National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) committee that issued recommendations on COVID-19 vaccination for patients with cancer. He received his first Moderna dose on December 29, 2020, and has been dispelling fear and spreading education about the vaccine.

“We all want to get the vaccines to the people who are at most risk for severe COVID-19 complications, and the data show that patients with cancer are high risk,” he said. “Making highly efficacious vaccines available to those populations is going to be important to saving lives.”

Pergam urged all caregivers and cancer survivors to get vaccinated unless they fall under a narrow window where the type and timing of their cancer treatment makes them temporarily ineligible. He outlined the patient populations that should delay the vaccine for at least three months, such as those who’ve just received stem cell transplant or CAR T-cell therapy and those who typically receive immunosuppressive therapy. Patients receiving other intensive treatment regiments like induction therapy for leukemia should also delay vaccination until their cell counts recover.

“Similar to the flu vaccine, preventing infection is not the only aim, it’s also preventing the complications of infection,” Pergam said. “These COVID-19 vaccines may not prevent the primary infection, but we hope that they can prevent patients with cancer from developing COVID-19 symptoms or being hospitalized, as has been seen in the phase III trials among the general public. There could be other downstream benefits that could be very helpful.”