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Cancer patients’ COVID vaccines should be a national priority

‘A cancer diagnosis is always stressful … but during a pandemic it’s extraordinarily difficult’

With the exception of Cook County, cancer patients in Illinois will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine starting Feb. 25, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker announced Wednesday. It’s a step in the right direction, but it needs to become a national priority, said Dr. Leonidas Platanias, the director of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University.

“A cancer diagnosis—and cancer therapy—is always stressful but dealing with cancer during a pandemic is extraordinarily difficult,” said Platanias, who also is a professor of medicine (hematology and oncology) and biochemistry and molecular genetics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Prioritizing vaccine administration to these patients is simply the right thing to do.”   

Cancer patients, Platanias said, are at increased risk for getting COVID because:

  • Studies have shown some subsets of cancer patients have higher morbidity and mortality from COVID, despite the fact that their cancer can be curable
  • Some cancer treatments can cause immunosuppression, which reduces the body’s ability to fight infection and disease
  • Cancer patients are already under undue stress from battling cancer. This stress can also impact how well their body fights off infection and disease
  • Cancer patients need to go to the hospital frequently for treatments, which puts them at increased risk of exposure to COVID

Platanias is available for interviews with media to discuss how COVID:

  • Significantly impacts cancer patients’ morbidity and mortality, especially for those receiving immunosuppressive treatments
  • Has delayed prevention, early detection and early intervention efforts for many cancer patients
  • Has led to significant treatment delays in hospitals, as COVID cases have overwhelmed patient wards and intensive care units.  
  • Vaccinations for cancer patients need to be prioritized and the impact it will have on public health

To schedule an interview with Dr. Platanias, contact Kristin Samuelson at ksamuelson@northwestern.edu.