A look at vaccine types, possible vaccines against COVID, and what they mean for cancer patients
By Kathryn E. Vinson, MS, CCRC
Over the last year, a day doesn’t go by without hearing something about COVID – be it symptoms, statistics, political finger-pointing, treatments, or potential vaccines. With over 48.2 million cases globally (as of November 5), the topic of vaccination against the novel coronavirus is a hot one. It has, however, generated a lot of concern in the media and on social media, with lots of those worries centered around the speed of development. With that, we here at Cancer Horizons wanted to take some time to discuss vaccines in general and dive a bit deeper into the vaccines in the development pipeline for COVID.
Main Types of Vaccines
The majority of us have heard the basic types of vaccines that are on the market but may not know exactly how they differ. Below, we have compiled a table to explain these differences:
|Vaccine Type||What does it mean?||Examples||Multiple shots or boosters needed?|
|Live or attenuated||The germ in the vaccine is still alive but has been substantially weakened||MMR, smallpox, chickenpox, rotavirus||Usually, only 1 or 2 shots needed|
|Inactivated||The germ is in the vaccine in its entirety, but it has been killed||Hepatitis A, Flu, and Polio shots||Yes|
|Subunit, component, conjugate||Only a part of the germ is present in the vaccine, such as a protein from its outer surface||Hepatitis B, HPV, whooping cough||Sometimes|
|Toxoid||Only the toxin produced by the germ is in the vaccine||Tetanus, Diphtheria||Sometimes|
Vaccines for COVID
Within the United States, there are a handful of phase 3 clinical trials that are either currently enrolling, enrolling, or in the conduct phase where enrollment has been completed. Among these trials, we see vaccine candidates from a range of categories: some are component vaccines (using a specific protein spike found on the outside of the virus), some are testing the effectiveness of existing vaccines (MMR) on preventing COVID infection, and some are mRNA vaccines.
mRNA vaccines are a type of vaccine that we haven’t touched on yet, as it is still a relatively new area of immunology. Some of the benefits of this type of vaccine include: the ability to produce lots of vaccines quickly and inexpensively, believed to be safer than other vaccine types, and they are able to produce a great immune response.
What about cancer patients?
Different vaccine types, even down to the specific disease being vaccinated against, have varying recommendations for cancer patients. Factors that influence whether a vaccine is recommended include the state of your immune system and whether are you currently undergoing chemotherapy or radiation. Keep in mind that most vaccines take at least two weeks for a healthy immune system to produce a response, so timing is everything.
For the most part, live or attenuated vaccines are not recommended for cancer patients, due to the possibility of infection with a live germ. Other types of vaccines are approved on a per case basis. Items that are considered in this decision include, but are not limited to: the health of the individual patient, is there time for an immune response prior to the start of chemo or radiation, and even the time of year (for example, flu season).
Specific recommendations for cancer patients and potential COVID vaccines have not yet been released, as they are not yet approved for public use. Although we can make educated guesses concerning the safety of cancer patients based on the types of vaccines that are in the development pipeline, the bottom line is that we don’t yet know. As with every vaccine, medication, and herbal supplement, we urge you to have an open conversation with your oncologist concerning the use of a potential COVID-19 vaccine.
We here at Cancer Horizons neither endorse, nor renounce any vaccine or vaccine candidate. This information is presented for educational purposes only. All decisions concerning vaccinating against any condition should be made in conjunction with your cancer care team.
As always, much love, many prayers, and abundant blessings to all of the warriors out there!!