Joint ASCO/ACS CAN Letter: States Must Include Patients With Cancer on Their COVID-19 Vaccine Priority Lists

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In the midst of growing concerns that patients with cancer have limited access to the COVID-19 vaccines, the Association for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), the advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society, issued a joint letter to every state governor in the United States urging them to prioritize patients with cancer in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in accordance with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.

“People with a history of cancer are at a higher risk for contracting severe COVID-19 and more likely to have worse outcomes as a result of the disease,” said Monica M. Bertagnolli, MD, FACS, FASCO, Chair of the ASCO Board. “While we understand that vaccine supplies are limited, we’re calling on every governor to thoughtfully consider prioritizing individuals with cancer as states continue to manage their COVID-19 vaccine distribution plans.”

Current Vaccine Prioritization Guidelines

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP)—the advisory body on vaccines that makes recommendations to the CDC—established guidelines in December 2020 outlining prioritization for COVID-19 vaccine distribution. Those nonbinding guidelines recommend patients with cancer be included in phase 1 of the prioritization for distributing the COVID vaccine. In December 2020, ASCO and the American Cancer Society requested that ACIP consider the evidence that demonstrates worse COVID-19 outcomes for people in active cancer treatment or with a history of cancer, making that population more vulnerable to the virus and therefore warranting early vaccination.

Unfortunately, ASCO and ACS CAN have learned that some states have chosen not to use CDC guidelines in implementing their vaccine distribution plans, and some have indicated that patients with cancer will be moved to lower priority tiers. For example, Colorado has placed residents with only one high-risk condition in phase 2, and Florida is prioritizing people aged 65 and older, while moving patients with high-risk medical conditions lower in priority.

“Patients across the country are telling us that they have grave concerns about being able to have timely access to vaccines,” said ACS CAN President Lisa Lacasse. “We urge every state governor to respect CDC’s guidelines and ensure that this immunocompromised patient population is on the priority list for vaccines.”

ASCO and ACS CAN also raised concerns that distribution of the vaccine has been uneven, leaving many eligible patients with cancer unable to receive a vaccine due to lack of access to a computer, transportation, or other critical resources. The two organizations urge states to ensure all vaccine distribution strategies and decisions are developed in a transparent and ethical way by public health professionals free from bias based on political or commercial interests. 

ASCO and ACS CAN will continue to work to ensure access to the vaccine for patients with cancer, and will provide patients with cancer and their care teams current and regularly updated information about the virus and how it impacts people with cancer.

AACR-Initiated Letter Includes 130 Organizations, Cancer Centers, and Other Institutions Urging Priority Access to a COVID-19 Vaccine for Cancer Patients and Survivors

On February 17, 130 organizations, cancer centers, and other institutions sent a letter to President Joseph R. Biden, key members of his administration, and leading public health officials at state health departments to underscore the importance of prioritizing patients with active cancer and survivors of cancer when administering the lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines. The broad spectrum of co-signatories to this letter represent laboratory, translational, and clinical researchers; other health-care professionals; millions of patients with cancer and survivors of cancer; and patient advocates from across the United States.

The letter notes that while widespread, rapid vaccination is a worthy goal, the currently limited supply of vaccines means that many who are at high risk for severe illness and death from COVID-19, including patients with active cancer and survivors of cancer, may continue to wait for many months if they are not provided with priority access.

The letter, initiated by the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), urges the Biden administration and public health officials at the state level to prioritize patients with cancer and survivors of cancer in statewide vaccination plans.


The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.