Nearly one in three patients with blood cancer, and survivors, say they are unlikely to get a COVID-19 vaccine or unsure about getting it if one were available. The findings come from a nationwide survey by The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, which collected 6,517 responses.
“These findings are worrisome, to say the least,” Gwen Nichols, MD, chief medical officer of the society, said in a statement.
“We know cancer patients – and blood cancer patients in particular – are susceptible to the worst effects of the virus [and] all of us in the medical community need to help cancer patients understand the importance of getting vaccinated,” she added.
The survey – the largest ever done in which cancer patients and survivors were asked about their attitudes toward COVID-19 vaccines – was published online March 8 by The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
The survey asked patients with blood cancer, and survivors, about their attitudes regarding COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccines.
“The main outcome [was] vaccine attitudes,” noted the authors, headed by Rena Conti, PhD, dean’s research scholar, Boston University.
Respondents were asked: “How likely are you to choose to get the vaccine?” Participants could indicate they were very unlikely, unlikely, neither likely nor unlikely, likely, or very likely to get vaccinated.
“We found that 17% of respondents indicate[d] that they [were] unlikely or very unlikely to take a vaccine,” Dr. Conti and colleagues observed.
Among the 17% – deemed to be “vaccine hesitant” – slightly over half (54%) stated they had concerns about the side effects associated with COVID-19 vaccination and believed neither of the two newly approved vaccines had been or would ever be tested properly.
The survey authors noted that there is no reason to believe COVID-19 vaccines are any less safe in patients with blood cancers, but concerns have been expressed that patients with some forms of blood cancer or those undergoing certain treatments may not achieve the same immune response to the vaccine as would noncancer controls.
Importantly, the survey was conducted Dec. 1-21, 2020, and responses differed depending on whether respondents answered the survey before or after the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines had been given emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration starting Dec. 10, 2020.
There was a slight increase in positive responses after the vaccines were granted regulatory approval. (One-third of those who responded to the survey after the approval were 3.7% more likely to indicate they would get vaccinated). “This suggests that hesitancy may be influenced by emerging information dissemination, government action, and vaccine availability, transforming the hypothetical opportunity of vaccination to a real one,” the survey authors speculated.
Survey respondents who were vaccine hesitant were also over 14% more likely to indicate that they didn’t think they would require hospitalization should they contract COVID-19. But clinical data have suggested that approximately half of patients with a hematological malignancy who required hospitalization for COVID-19 die from the infection, the authors noted.
“Vaccine hesitant respondents [were] also significantly less likely to engage in protective health behaviors,” the survey authors pointed out. For example, they were almost 4% less likely to have worn a face mask and 1.6% less likely to have taken other protective measures to guard against COVID-19 infection.