Doctor Recommends COVID-19 Vaccine for Adolescent Patients with Cancer

Recent CDC recommendations that children ages 12 to 15 are eligible to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine can include patients with cancer, except under certain extreme circumstances, says an expert from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

On May 12, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced its recommendation that children ages 12 to 15 are eligible to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. In an interview with CURE®, Dr. Miguela Caniza, a pediatrician with a specialty in pediatric infectious diseases and director of the Infectious Diseases Program at St. Jude Global, gave insight on what this news means for patients with cancer in this age group.

“This is a synthetic vaccine,” said Caniza. “Meaning this is a vaccine that is not live. And for cancer and other immunocompromised hosts, we are concerned if a vaccine has a live pathogen, live virus, live bacteria. But in this case, this is not. So, from that viewpoint, we can say it's very safe, because we are not giving anything alive to the patient.”

In addition to safety is the concern of efficacy. Among certain patients, the vaccine may not be as effective due to a patient’s specific health status.

“Certainly, it is indicated in some people who might have received a transplant, usually the first 100 days vaccines might not produce enough defense or immunoglobulin,” said Caniza. “For that age group, for that category, you would say it might not be very efficacious. The indication then is to give 100 days after allogeneic transplant, or at least 30 days after autologous transplantation.”

The COVID-19 vaccine can be handled similarly to the flu vaccine, in terms of when to administer it or not, said Caniza. If a child is very sick due to their cancer or cancer treatments, resulting in a weakened immune response, it’s advised to consult their healthcare providers before receiving the vaccine.

“If their kid is above 12 years of age, ask and initiate that conversation. It could be that in that particular moment, it might not be the right time, but just ask when this kid can receive that vaccination. And I would say that the vaccine might make a difference.”

“As healthcare providers, pediatricians and advocates for children, we want for them to get immunized, so they are not going to be suffering and transmitting their infection to other kids,” said Caniza.

Though there are currently no recommendations for children younger than age 12 to get the COVID-19 vaccine, Caniza said it’s possible that this news is on its way.

“In other age groups such as age five to 11, the studies are ongoing,” said Caniza. “And I'm sure that in the next few months, we might have the good news, also, to say that the vaccine is effective, and safe.”

Caniza also highlighted the importance of caregivers of patients with cancer receiving the vaccine.

“Especially among children with cancer, it's very important to provide a safe environment,” said Caniza. “And so, the care provider at home, parents or either being an extended family or guardian, it’s very important to be safe for that kid. And right now, there is this vaccine which is very efficacious, and people can easily get it. So, I would say to the care provider, please get vaccinated.”

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