In nearly two-thirds of U.S. states, cancer patients weren't put at the front of the line for COVID-19 vaccines in the initial phase of vaccination, a new study finds.
Many cancer patients are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 as the disease or related treatments leaves them with weakened immune systems.
Perhaps many cancer patients were skipped over for COVID shots because vaccination guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were too broad, reasoned study lead author Dr. Rahul Prasad, of the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center in Columbus.
"I don't think anyone intended to push people to the back of the line," Prasad added.
In the final part of the first phase of the U.S. vaccination program, the CDC said that along with adults aged 65 to 74, people aged 16 to 64 with high-risk conditions such as cancer should be given priority.
In this study, the researchers examined how many states followed the CDC recommendations on cancer patients. While 43 states included cancer among criteria for vaccination, only 17 states gave patients with cancer the same immunization priority as patients aged 65 to 74, according to the study.
The results were presented Thursday at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.
"Although the CDC recommended that all states consider people with significant medical conditions to have equal vaccination priority with people over the age of 65, we found that nearly two-thirds of states did not give equal vaccination priority to patients with cancer," Prasad said in a society news release.
The researchers also found that 42 states did not clearly define the criteria for cancer patients to receive priority vaccination, despite considerable variation among cancer patients.
"You could have someone diagnosed with breast cancer at age 40 who is now 55, in remission, and wondering if they're eligible," Prasad explained. "On the other side of the spectrum, someone newly diagnosed with low-risk prostate cancer may not be particularly immunocompromised if they haven't started treatment yet."
Of the eight states that did define a qualifying cancer diagnosis for vaccine prioritization, six limited it to patients currently receiving treatment.
Attempts to streamline vaccination efforts are one likely reason why so few states followed the CDC recommendations on prioritizing cancer patients for COVID-19 shots, according to Prasad.
"The efforts were well-intentioned, but what ended up happening was that the CDC governing bodies' definition of high-risk medical conditions was too broad," Prasad noted.
Early in the fall of this year, the CDC approved booster shots for seniors and high-risk people such as cancer patients.
"It's especially critical this time around to make sure these most at-risk people are getting their boosters in a timely fashion," Prasad said.
Data and conclusions presented at meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
The American Cancer Society has more on COVID-19 vaccines.
SOURCE: Radiological Society of North America, news release, Dec. 2, 2021