People with cancer must not be ‘left behind’ as pandemic protections dropped: Peter Mac

Prof John Seymour

Cancer specialists at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne have backed global calls for immunocompromised people with cancer not to be ‘left behind’ as pandemic protections against infection are dropped.

Peter Mac has joined other groups such as the Leukaemia Foundation in endorsing the International COVID-19 Blood Cancer Coalition (ICBCC)’s Patient Impact Statement that seeks to raise awareness that blood cancer patients remain especially vulnerable to COVID-19 and they deserve access to additional protection measures such as access to testing and antivirals.

Professor John Seymour, Director of Clinical Haematology at Peter Mac and Royal Melbourne Hospital, says the statement is needed to ensure that people with blood cancers do not remain ‘prisoners of the pandemic’.

Unlike other members of the community who have gained protection against COVID-19 from vaccines, many people with blood cancer can not achieve adequate protection despite multiple doses of different vaccine formulations and remain at high risk of a fatal outcome if they were to contract the infection, he notes.

“While many communities move toward normalisation of their activities protected by vaccination, patients with blood cancers are being left behind, and do not have the opportunity for safe resumption of their normal lives. A humane society must strive for equal protections for all members, and this collaborative statement calls for such equity,” said Professor Seymour.

The statement’s recommendations include providing access to fast response COVID-19 testing, access to Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), additional booster doses of vaccines, and provision of psychological/psycho-oncological services.

It also calls for education for immunocompromised/immunosuppressed (IC/IS) patients to continue masking and social distancing in high-risk circumstances such as public transport, even if the public rules on masking and social distancing are relaxed.

“Safety measures and masking should continue to be maintained in any clinical setting when treating IC/IS patients even when public rules are being relaxed,” the statement advises

There is also an ongoing need to define who is at high risk for COVID-19, the statement notes.

“It cannot be based on a single blood value and instead should be informed by the increasing volume of scientific literature on COVID-19 outcomes in several different IC/IS communities. This is especially true for all those with lymphoid malignancies including many lymphomas such as CLL/SLL (chronic lymphocytic leukaemia/small lymphocytic lymphoma), regardless of whether they are before, during or after treatment,” it states.

Peter Mac says it will continue support the ICBCC as it develops a global campaign with toolkit and materials to raise awareness of the blood cancer community’s needs around COVID-19.

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