Cancer patients develop COVID-19 antibodies after being fully vaccinated, suggests a new study.
Researchers at the Montefiore Health System and Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, New York found that 94 percent of patients with tumors developed antibodies after vaccination.
Even patients who received stem cell transplants and other treatments that suppress the immune system had antibody positivity rates in excess of 70 percent.
This finding is great news for many patients and their doctors who feared the vaccines would not be effective in cancer patients.
According to the teams, the results provide clues as to why patients should definitely get vaccinated against the coronavirus if a vaccination is available.
Of 200 patients in a study in Bronx, New York, 94% developed COVID antibodies after vaccination. Pictured: Cancer patient receives her vaccine while others talk and laugh in an oncology ward at the James Graham Brown Cancer Center in Louisville, Kentucky in April 2021
Cancer patients taking stem cell treatments and other therapies had fewer antibody responses, but still saw significant immune system buildups after vaccination
Cancer patients are among the most vulnerable to severe COVID-19.
Many of the treatments that are used to treat various types of cancer can cause the immune system to lose its ability to fight off disease.
Older cancer patients and those who also suffer from other diseases – such as lung diseases or diabetes – are particularly at risk because they have or have a weak immune system immunocompromised.
In a May 2021 study, researchers estimated that around 90,000 American adults under the age of 65 are immunocompromised. – make up about three percent of the population.
Because of their weaker immune systems, many medical professionals fear that vaccines will not be effective in cancer patients.
So far, studies in this area have been limited as COVID-19 vaccine studies excluded patients diagnosed with cancer.
Patients couldn’t get clear information about whether to get vaccinated – or how the vaccines could affect their cancer treatment.
The new study, published in the journal Cell, included 200 patients from the Bronx, New York who were tested for COVID antibodies after being fully vaccinated.
The majority had an active diagnosis of cancer and 56 percent received active chemotherapy, including 19 percent who received chemotherapy within 48 hours of at least one vaccine dose.
All common types of cancer were represented in the study.
Cancer patients have built up an immune response against the coronavirus after vaccination
Of those 200 patients, a whopping 94 percent tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies after vaccination – meaning they had successfully built an immune response against the coronavirus.
Most of the patients had received the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, while some had received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Those who had Pfizer and Moderna syringes were slightly more likely to test positive for antibodies.
The researchers also found that antibody levels were higher when patients were tested longer after their final vaccine dose – which reflects how antibody levels built up over time.
Patients often experienced mild side effects such as sore arms and muscle pain.
“The side effects of vaccination seen in these populations were not significantly worse than in other groups,” said Dr. Balazs Halmos, director of the multidisciplinary thoracic oncology program in Montefiore and lead author on the study, in a statement.
“Not a single patient had to be admitted to the emergency room or hospital because of the side effects of the vaccines.”
Some of the cancer patients had slightly lower antibody positivity rates like those with blood cancer had a positivity rate of 85 percent, compared to 98 percent positivity for those with solid tumors.
Patients who received specific therapies that kill B cells and those who have recently had bone marrow or stem cell transplants were also less likely to test positive for COVID antibodies.
Still, these patients had positivity rates in excess of 70 percent – higher than the researchers expected.
The researchers also found that there was no significant difference in the effectiveness of the vaccine for patients of different races / ethnic groups.
This study was the largest to date looking at the effectiveness of vaccines in cancer patients – previous studies looked at a smaller number of patients.
The results suggest that cancer patients can and should be vaccinated without worrying about side effects, and they can be confident that their immune system will respond to the vaccinations.
“We really need an effort to keep these vulnerable patients safe from infection,” said Dr. Amit Verma, director of the hemato-oncology department in Montefiore and another co-author of the study.
“This study should help people know that these vaccines are working very well, even in patients receiving chemotherapy or immunotherapy.”
More research is needed to confirm the results of this study and to investigate the possible use of higher doses of vaccines or booster syringes for cancer patients.
Still, the study’s message is clear: “It’s important to emphasize how well these patient populations have done with the vaccines,” Verma said.