While the FDA has approved both Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines for widespread use, neither were testing in individuals who are immunocompromised, a normal practice in clinical trials for new drugs.
“Efficacy is the big question,” in deciding whether or not immunocompromised patients should still get the vaccine, explained Dr. David Cohn, chief medical officer at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Dr. Cohn says the issue is not whether or not the vaccine is safe for these patients, but if their immune system will mount a response to the vaccine in the intended way.
“It’s that level of immune response that’s going to protect somebody from developing this severe infection if they were exposed to the virus,” he said.
“But here’s the important point: we know that patients that have COVID-19 and cancer or who’ve been treated do develop an immune response.”
That means that these patients will still develop some level of immunity or protection from the virus.
“What Dr. Fauci has stated - and many have followed - is that some level of protection is better than none.”
Patients who are taking medications that impact their immune system in some way should consult their doctors about when to schedule their vaccines.
“We want to time a vaccination, if it’s possible, at a place where somebody has the highest possibility of an immune response,” Dr. Cohn explained.
There are always some risks associated with getting a vaccine, particularly for those with a history of severe allergic reactions, and patients who are on other medications should consult their doctor before getting vaccinated.
However, he says the advice in most cases will be to get the shot.
“There’s very few conditions in which we would not recommend that somebody be vaccinated against COVID-19, and I would just make the comment that this is certainly a time of hope where we can begin seeing some light at the end of what’s become a very, very long tunnel.”