COVID-19 vaccination and breakthrough infections in patients with cancer

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Annals of oncology


BACKGROUND: Vaccination is an important preventive health measure to protect against symptomatic and severe COVID-19. Impaired immunity secondary to an underlying malignancy or recent receipt of antineoplastic systemic therapies can result in less robust antibody titers following vaccination and possible risk of breakthrough infection. As clinical trials evaluating COVID-19 vaccines largely excluded patients with a history of cancer and those on active immunosuppression (including chemotherapy), limited evidence is available to inform the clinical efficacy of COVID-19 vaccination across the spectrum of patients with cancer.

PATIENTS AND METHODS: We describe the clinical features of patients with cancer who developed symptomatic COVID-19 following vaccination and compare weighted outcomes with those of contemporary unvaccinated patients, after adjustment for confounders, using data from the multi-institutional COVID-19 and Cancer Consortium (CCC19).

RESULTS: Patients with cancer who develop COVID-19 following vaccination have substantial comorbidities and can present with severe and even lethal infection. Patients harboring hematologic malignancies are over-represented among vaccinated patients with cancer who develop symptomatic COVID-19.

CONCLUSIONS: Vaccination against COVID-19 remains an essential strategy in protecting vulnerable populations, including patients with cancer. Patients with cancer who develop breakthrough infection despite full vaccination, however, remain at risk of severe outcomes. A multilayered public health mitigation approach that includes vaccination of close contacts, boosters, social distancing, and mask-wearing should be continued for the foreseeable future.

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