‘Include cancer patients for Covid vaccination without age restriction’

PT Jyothi Datta Mumbai | Updated on March 02, 2021

Infectious diseases specialist urges inclusion of all adult patients who had a cancer diagnosis within the last five years, whether on treatment or not

Cancer patients diagnosed in the past five years should also be prioritised for the Covid-19 vaccine, without an age restriction, an infectious diseases specialist has said in his letter to the Health Ministry and NITI Aayog top-brass.

The list of co-morbidities eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine mentions cancer patients at the highest risk, but cancer patients in the 18-45 age group are also vulnerable and need to be included, Dr Abdul Ghafur, an infectious diseases consultant at Chennai’s Apollo Cancer Institute, told BusinessLine.

“A 20-year-old leukemia patient has 33 per cent Covid mortality rate, much higher than that of a 60-year-old patient with diabetes and hypertension,” he wrote in a letter to Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan and NITI Aayog member (health) Dr VK Paul.

Still at risk

Patients who are not on active chemotherapy at present but were diagnosed with cancer in the past five years are also at risk, he said, although the highest risk is in the first year after the diagnosis.

The list of co-morbidities presently listed by the Centre as eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine includes “Lymphoma/Leukaemia/Myeloma” and the “diagnosis of any solid cancer on or after July 1, 2020, OR currently on any cancer therapy.” But this is restricted to the 45-59 age-group.

The doctor’s letter cites a European Society of Medical Oncology (ESMO) guideline that states: “Patients with cancer have an increased risk of severe Covid-19, ie, haematological malignancy requiring chemotherapy or active, advanced solid tumour or history of solid tumour <5 years ago and should be vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2 regardless of any other indications (ie, age), and positioned at high prioritisation.”

Pointing out that several guidelines have made similar recommendations, the letter said a recent meeting of senior oncologists and oncology infection specialists in the country also echoed the thoughts expressed by ESMO on vaccinating cancer patients.

“We should consider including all adult patients who had a cancer diagnosis within the last five years, whether on treatment or not, and irrespective of any age cut-offs,” the letter reiterated.

Given the vaccine hesitancy among some frontline workers and the public, “cancer patients could be more motivated to receive the vaccine,” he pointed out.

Published on March 02, 2021

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