Nearly 77% of cancer patients are hesitant to take the Covid-19 vaccine due to fears about the side effects, vaccine interfering in chemotherapy and radiation therapy; lack of information and misinformation, a questionnaire-based study, carried out by a team of doctors from the Tata Memorial Hospital (TMH), has found.
The medical team highlighted the need for robust communication strategies and systemic programs for the dissemination of information to fortify the Covid-19 vaccination.
“Cancer patients are more vulnerable to Covid-19 because of their low immunity level and vaccinations are thus crucial for them;” said oncologist Dr Shripad Banavali, who is one of the co-authors of the study published in the Cancer Research, Statistics and Treatment journal.
The survey was carried out between May 7, 2021, and June 10, 2021, in patients aged 45 years and above; with solid tumours.
“The Covid-19 vaccination does not interfere with chemotherapy or radiation therapy. There are no additional side effects associated with the vaccine among cancer patients,” said Banavali.
A total of 435 patients were included in the study. Of these, 348 or 80% of patients had not received even a single dose of the vaccine; 15.2% of patients had received the first dose and only 4.8% had received both doses.
Vaccine hesitancy was seen in 259 or nearly 77% of the surveyed patients.
Among the most common reasons for hesitancy were fear of side effects and impact on cancer therapy (38%) and lack of information (26.7%).
The study noted that the lower educational level and lack of prior advice regarding the Covid-19 vaccines played a significant role in the hesitancy.
The survey data was analysed end of June. Since then the vaccination numbers in the country have picked up with over 94 crore doses administered to date. “But many patients who are coming to our OPD’s (outpatient department) are still unvaccinated,” said Banavali. “We sensitise them and bust their myths about the vaccines;” he said adding that the hospital also receives many calls from patients outside Mumbai asking if the Covid vaccines are safe for them.
A comment piece written by TMH doctors published on Friday; also deliberated on India’s vaccine hesitancy; as well as the many factors contributing to it.
“The development of the Covid-19 immunisation programmes is hampered by vaccine hesitancy;” said head and neck surgeon Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi who authored the piece along with Dr Mihir Dani and Dr Arjun Singh.
The piece noted that vaccine hesitancy is a complex problem and should be tackled at the policy level; interpersonal level and organisation level.
For instance, interpersonal communication training should be provided to auxiliary nurse midwives; anganwadi workers, Accredited Social Health Activists (Asha), traditional healers, local doctors, as well as other mobilisers, the piece noted.
Cancer and Covid-19 vaccination
-Covid-19 vaccines can be taken by cancer patients who are on active chemotherapy or radiation therapy
-Covid-19 vaccine does not hamper cancer therapy or cause any additional side effects
-Cancer patients fall under the vulnerable category and Covid-19 vaccination is thus crucial for them.