The National Comprehensive Cancer Network® (NCCN) has released new guidance on vaccinating people with cancer against COVID-19. The nonprofit alliance of leading cancer centers created an NCCN COVID-19 Vaccine Committee that includes hematology and oncology experts with particular expertise in infectious diseases, vaccine development/delivery, medical ethics, and health information technology. These recommendations can help cancer care providers make informed decisions on how to protect their patients from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, based on available evidence plus expert consensus.
The committee’s recommendations state that all people currently in active cancer treatment should get the vaccine, with some advice to consider regarding immunosuppression and timing. The full document can be found at NCCN.org/covid-19, along with other vital information about the impact of COVID-19 on cancer care.
“Right now, there is urgent need and limited data,” explained Co-Leader of the NCCN COVID-19 Vaccine Committee Steve Pergam, MD, MPH, Associate Professor, Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Infection Prevention Director at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. “Our number one goal is helping to get the vaccine to as many people as we can. That means following existing national and regional directions for prioritizing people who are more likely to face death or severe illness from COVID-19. The evidence we have shows that people receiving active cancer treatment are at greater risk for worse outcomes from COVID-19, particularly if they are older and have additional comorbidities, like immunosuppression.”
Steve Pergam, MD, MPH
Lindsey Baden, MD
Sirisha Narayana, MD
“My philosophy is: don’t waste a dose, and keep it simple,” said Committee Co-Leader Lindsey Baden, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Infectious Disease, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. “Too many caveats can lead to confusion. Of course, if strong new evidence comes out to support prioritizing certain groups over others, we can always adjust. This is intended to be a living document that is constantly evolving—it will be updated rapidly whenever new data comes out, as well as any potential new vaccines that may get approved in the future.”
“One of our primary goals is reducing morbidity and mortality,” said Sirisha Narayana, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Chair of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Ethics Committee, UCSF Health. “We also have to take social determinants of health into account and make special efforts for people in high-risk communities.”
Highlights of the Guidance Statement
This new guidance statement from NCCN builds off of existing understanding and guidelines for the flu vaccine during active cancer treatment, such as those in the NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®) for Prevention and Treatment of Cancer-Related Infections.
The guidance acknowledges that although these vaccines have been shown to be safe in general populations, their effectiveness among patients with cancer and transplant patients is not precisely known at present. Available data from vaccine trials have demonstrated that vaccines decrease the incidence of COVID-19 disease and complications, but it is unclear if these vaccines prevent infection and subsequent transmission. Therefore, everyone should continue to wear masks, avoid large gatherings, and follow other recommendations for preventing COVID-19 acquisition and transmission—even after vaccination. The committee feels strongly that caregivers and other members of the same household should also be encouraged to get the vaccine as soon they are considered eligible.
The committee also addressed issues such as:
Robert W. Carlson, MD
The panel will continue to meet regularly in order to refine the recommendations for these and other issues as they come up. Any open questions can also serve as a guide for areas where new research is most needed.
“The medical community is rising to one of the biggest challenges we have ever faced,” said Robert W. Carlson, MD, Chief Executive Officer, NCCN. “The COVID-19 vaccines exemplify the heights of scientific achievement. Now we have to distribute them quickly, equitably, safely, and efficiently, using clearly defined and transparent principles.”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®.