Elya Martinson, a single mother of three in Kelowna, B.C., learned she had Stage 4 lung cancer, a diagnosis made all the more devastating that the COVID-19 crisis forced her children to stay home from school to shield her from the severe risks of infection. (Memorable and Vibrant Okanagan Photography)

Elya Martinson, a single mother of three in Kelowna, B.C., learned she had Stage 4 lung cancer, a diagnosis made all the more devastating that the COVID-19 crisis forced her children to stay home from school to shield her from the severe risks of infection. (Memorable and Vibrant Okanagan Photography)

2nd vaccine dose delays leave Kelowna woman, many B.C. cancer patients unprotected

This week, patients and advocates mounted a national campaign to prioritize people with cancer by adhering to the vaccine manufacturer’s schedule

Elya Martinson has two important milestones approaching: the anniversary of her cancer diagnosis on Friday, and on Tuesday, the day she’d be fully immunized against COVID-19 — if her second vaccine dose is not delayed four months.

The single mother of three in Kelowna, B.C., received her first shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on April 14 and says she was told at the time she would have to wait until August before booking again, despite having stage 4 lung cancer.

Pfizer recommends a 21-day interval between shots of its two-dose vaccine, and like several provinces, British Columbia does not offer medical exemptions for higher risk cancer patients like Martinson.

This week, patients and advocates mounted a national campaign to prioritize people with cancer by adhering to the manufacturer’s schedule. In the case of Pfizer, that’s a three-week delay, while Moderna dictates a four-week gap between doses, and Oxford-AstraZeneca recommends waiting between four to 12 weeks for a second shot.

Medical experts say emerging research suggests many cancer patients have a reduced immune response to the vaccine, so a single COVID-19 shot may leave them insufficiently protected.

“We’re not asking for special treatment. We’re just asking for equality,” says Martinson, 37. “In order for us to get the same efficacy as everyone else with one vaccine, unfortunately, we do need two vaccines.”

There are patients like her in many parts of the country, say, advocates, who are calling for a national policy to exempt people with cancer from extended dose delays.

Earlier this month, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization affirmed its recommendation that a second dose be delayed as long as four months in order to offer more people the first dose faster.

NACI left it to provinces and territories to decide if exemptions should be made for high-risk groups.

Some provinces, such as Ontario and Alberta, chose to prioritize some people with weakened immune systems, including certain cancer patients. But elsewhere, including British Columbia and Quebec, the four-month interval applies across the board.

The president of the Canadian Association of Pharmacy in Oncology says the patchwork of policies leaves many patients in the lurch. Even in jurisdictions that permit earlier doses for cancer patients, confusion reigns, says Tina Crosbie.

“If we have something on a national level, then that will help for that trickle-down effect to be able to implement it and roll it out in the various health units,” Crosbie says.

Dr. Keith Stewart, director of the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto, says people with cancer often have weakened immune systems, both because of the disease itself and the treatments for it.

Blood cancers, in particular, often impair the immune system. Solid tumours, such as those in colon cancer or lung cancer, are often treated with therapies that destroy cancer cells, but can also damage the healthy cells involved in the body’s immune response.

COVID-19 vaccines trigger the body’s immune response to produce antibodies that help fight off infection. But in cancer patients, that response will be diminished, says Stewart.

“Not enough cancer patients respond to the first dose to be comfortable leaving them without the second,” he says. “Even with the second dose, protection will be suboptimal. But any protection is better than none.”

Researchers in London published a paper in the Lancet this week suggesting a single dose of the Pfizer vaccine leaves many cancer patients partially or mostly unprotected, based on data collected from 151 cancer patients and 54 healthy controls.

Three weeks after receiving one shot of Pfizer, the study found an immune response in 38 per cent of people with solid cancer and 18 per cent of patients with blood cancer. That’s compared to 94 per cent of those without cancer.

However, immunity response improved in patients with solid cancer who received a boost 21 days after their first shot.

A Health Canada spokesman says there’s little data on the issue because cancer patients were excluded from clinical trials.

And early data suggesting a reduced immune response in some cancer patients do not necessarily indicate the level of real-world protection they’d have against COVID-19, Eric Morrissette said Wednesday in an email.

NACI will continue to monitor the evidence about the effectiveness of vaccines in high-risk groups and adjust its recommendations if needed, he added.

On Wednesday, a coalition of cancer advocacy groups published an open letter in the Globe and Mail calling on all levels of government to ensure Canadians with cancer aren’t put at risk because of a delayed dose.

The executive director of Myeloma Canada, which was one of more than a dozen signatories of the letter, says anxiety over second doses has prompted some cancer patients to delay treatments that may impact the effectiveness of the vaccine.

“Because of COVID, many cancer patients have had their diagnosis or treatment delayed, which is a very stressful experience,” Martine Elias says.

“Now, we are creating even more uncertainty for them by delaying their second vaccination dose.”

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The current location of Comox Valley Search and Rescue on Moray Avenue in Courtenay. Google Maps photo
Comox Valley Search and Rescue aiming to purchase a roof for their rescuers

Their goal is to raise between $1.2 and $1.5 million, approximately the purchase price of a facility

A bear is seen walking down Alderwood Place in east Courtenay Sunday (May 9) morning. Video screenshot/Kristie Cave
Video: Bears spotted throughout Comox Valley

Hide food sources, keep garbage away: conservation

Carter Woods was first across the line at the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup, Saturday in Altstadt, Germany. File photo
Cumberland mountain biker wins World Cup race in Germany

Carter Woods of Cumberland won a World Cup mountain bike race Saturday… Continue reading

The flowers of Darmera peltata (Indian rhubarb) before the leaves emerge. Photo by Leslie Cox
DUCHESS OF DIRT: Plenty of ‘wow’ factor in the garden in spring

Leslie Cox Special to The Record I can’t help it. I like… Continue reading

WestJet in flight. Black Press file photo
Two COVID exposures on WestJet flight into Comox

The BC Centre for Disease Control has posted advisories for two separate… Continue reading

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The following is a list of restaurants offering take-out and patio dining. ADOBE STOCK IMAGE
List of Comox Valley restaurants offering take-out, patio dining options

Restaurants in the Comox Valley continue to adapt to government-imposed restrictions in… Continue reading

The only access to 5th Street bridge heading east (toward Lewis Park) is via Anderton Avenue. Photo by Terry Farrell.
Single lane alternating traffic controls on Courtenay bridge now in effect

Single lane alternating traffic on the 5th Street Bridge is now in… Continue reading

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a ‘person of interest’ in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
RCMP identify ‘person of interest’ in Kootenay National Park suspicious death

Police are looking for Philip Toner, who was known to a woman found dead near Radium last week

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko (35) makes a save on Winnipeg Jets’ Nate Thompson (11) during second period NHL action in Winnipeg, Monday, May 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
Vancouver Canucks see NHL playoff hopes dashed despite 3-1 win over Winnipeg

Montreal Canadiens earn final North Division post-season spot

The B.C. legislature went from 85 seats to 87 before the 2017 election, causing a reorganization with curved rows and new desks squeezed in at the back. The next electoral boundary review could see another six seats added. (Black Press files)
B.C. election law could add six seats, remove rural protection

North, Kootenays could lose seats as cities gain more

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the shooting of an Indigenous woman in the Ucluelet First Nation community of Hitacu. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation wants ‘massive change’ after its 3rd police shooting in less than a year

Nuu-chah-nulth woman recovering from gunshot wounds in weekend incident near Ucluelet

Nurse Gurinder Rai, left, administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Maria Yule at a Fraser Health drive-thru vaccination site, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. The site is open for vaccinations 11 hours per day to those who have pre-booked an appointment. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID vaccine bookings to open for adults 40+, or 18+ in hotspots, across B.C.

Only people who have registered will get their alert to book

Most Read