By Sara Bondell - August 24, 2023
With COVID-19 cases on the rise again in the U.S. this summer, you may be wondering: Should I get another booster shot?
Cancer patients, whose immune systems can be weakened by treatment, may have an increased fear of severe COVID-19 infections.
A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute analyzed the long-term likelihood of future infection in cancer patients undergoing treatment after receiving updated booster shots.
Researchers found increased boosting among cancer patients provides a similar benefit to people without cancer. They predict 1 in 3 people who don’t get boosters will be infected within two years. However, getting boosted every six months reduces that risk to 1 in 20.
The study found one big exception: cancer patients undergoing treatment that has a direct impact on the immune system, most commonly blood cancer patients.
“Blood cancer patients are at higher risk because their cancer and more importantly their treatment are much more likely to have a suppressed immune system,” said Dr. John Greene, chair of the Infectious Diseases Program at Moffitt Cancer Center. “In addition, they are much more likely to have a substandard immune response to vaccination and thus are more susceptible to infection.”
For those patients, the study recommends higher boosting frequency. With annual boosting, 1 out of 3 patients in treatment would still be vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 within two years. Boosting every three months could cut that risk in half, the study says.
“According to this study, more frequent boosting is more likely to be beneficial, but boosting every three or six months has not been adequately studied and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices have not recommended more frequent boosting at this time,” Greene said.
Greene does recommend cancer patients get the new COVID-19 booster shot expected to roll out this fall to not only boost their current immune system, but also add additional protection against new circulating strains.
He also recommends getting the flu shot and the RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) vaccine if you are eligible before the winter season. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first RSV vaccine this spring for individuals 60 and older, as well as a vaccine for pregnant individuals to prevent RSV in infants.