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Yes, those with cancer should especially be vaccinated against COVID-19
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If you’re a cancer patient, then it is incredibly important to get vaccinated against COVID-19, and there are few medical reasons not to do so for those receiving treatment, local medical experts told The Times. 

“It’s especially important for cancer patients to get vaccinated because they’re at higher risk of severe illness, hospitalization and dying if they do get COVID,” said Dr. Geoffrey Weidner, a radiation oncologist with Northeast Georgia Physicians Group. 

Cancer patients are much more likely to be compromised, because cancer can have a dramatic effect on the body’s immune system, heart and lungs, which makes it harder to fight against the virus that causes COVID-19. Blood cancers like lymphoma and leukemia can leave patients particularly vulnerable, Weidner said. 

“Those cancers tend to affect the immune cells that produce antibodies more so than what we call solid tumors like lung cancer, breast cancer,” he said. 

Getting a vaccine booster shot is highly recommended for cancer patients age 50 and older, and even those 18-49 would likely benefit from a booster, Weidner said, so those patients should talk with their cancer doctor about what is right for them. Patients should wait six months after their initial vaccine series before getting the booster, he said.

There are some situations where doctors may recommend patients wait to get their shot, such as if they underwent a major surgery or if they are getting a bone marrow transplant or stem cell transplants. But, Weidner said, patients can still get vaccinated several weeks after receiving these treatments. 

“There’s very few contraindications, and even those patients can get vaccinated, they just need to wait until a few months after their treatment is completed,” he said.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines available in the U.S. use mRNA technology to fight off the virus, and there’s hope that mRNA technology could have other applications as well, including fighting off cancer cells. The technology for these highly effective vaccines has been around for decades, but only recently were scientists able to stabilize it enough to create a mass-produced vaccine, said Dr. Supriya Mannepalli, director of infectious disease medicine for Northeast Georgia Health System. 

The mRNA technology is fragile, which is why there are precautions taken when transporting it, like needing to keep it at a low temperature, Mannepalli said. The vaccines work by convincing the body to create antibodies against the virus without actually delivering the virus into the body, she said. Specifically, it introduces the body to the spike protein, which is identified with COVID-19, and the body then creates antibodies against the spike protein. 

Other vaccine types use inactivated or weakened viruses or germs that trigger the immune response. “But here we’re literally fooling the body into thinking that it is infected with the virus when it’s not,” Mannepalli said. “Once (the vaccine) does its job and instructs the cell to produce this protein, within a few days, it’s out of our body. It’s quickly degraded.”

The mRNA technology could have other uses in the future, Mannepalli said. It could even be used to tell the body to attack specific cancer cells to aid cancer treatment. 

“I’m looking forward to learning more about how we can use this mRNA technology in the future so that maybe we can have one vaccine that will have protection against multiple diseases,” Mannepalli said.