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

Just Posted

The bodies of Carlo and Erick Fryer were discovered by a local couple walking on a remote forest road in Naramata on May 10. (Submitted)
Kamloops brothers identified as pair found dead near Penticton

The bodies of Carlo and Erick Fryer were discovered by a local couple walking

Jane Long-Haggerty, a chartered accountant with a member of the Salvation Army Food Bank, hold up a cheque for $740. Long-Haggerty decided to cut her fees in half and ask her clients to donate whatever they felt they could to the food bank. The idea landed her a room full of food and $740 to the Salvation Army Food Bank. (Submitted)
Penticton accounting firm gives big return to food bank

Long-Haggerty said this year’s tax season showed how bad the pandemic has impacted everyone

Doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine are seen being prepared on Wednesday, May 12, 2021, in Decatur, Ga. Hundreds of children, ages 12 to 15, received the Pfizer vaccine at the DeKalb Pediatric Center, just days after it was approved for use within their age group. (AP Photo/Ron Harris)
One death, 60 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

The death is connected to the outbreak at Spring Valley long-term care in Kelowna

The manager and a worker at the Penticton Great Canadian Oil Exchange in front of the new sea-can. (Submitted)
Kelowna and Penticton oil recycling facilities get upgrades

The BC Used Oil Management Association provided grant funding for the upgrades

The SS Sicamous was decked out in poppies on Remembrance Day and lights at Christmas time. The Sicamous won’t be able to open again because of COVID restrictions. (Monique Tamminga - File photo)
The SS Sicamous was decked out in poppies on Remembrance Day and lights at Christmas time. The Sicamous won’t be able to open again because of COVID restrictions. (Monique Tamminga - File photo)
Penticton’s historic paddlewheeler likely won’t open for a second year

The SS Sicamous Society is getting lots of restoration work done during the closure

Prince Rupert was one of the first B.C. communities targeted for mass vaccination after a steep rise in infections. Grey area marks community-wide vaccine distribution. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. tracks big drop in COVID-19 infections after vaccination

Prince Rupert, Indigenous communities show improvement

Municipal governments around B.C. have emergency authority to conduct meetings online, use mail voting and spend reserve funds on operation expenses. (Penticton Western News)
Online council meetings, mail-in voting option to be extended in B.C.

Proposed law makes municipal COVID-19 exceptions permanent

A nurse prepares a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. (Phil McLachlan/Black Press)
British Columbians aged 20+ can book for vaccine Saturday, those 18+ on Sunday

‘We are also actively working to to incorporate the ages 12 to 17 into our immunization program’

The Maritime Kitchen Party is featured in the B-Side, the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre’s online series, May 13-16. (VDPAC photo)
B-Side keeps Okanagan musicians in Focus

Performing Arts Centre online concerts continue

The AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine. (AP/Eranga Jayawardena)
2nd person in B.C. diagnosed with rare blood clotting after AstraZeneca vaccine

The man, in his 40s, is currently receiving care at a hospital in the Fraser Health region

The. B.C. Court of Appeal granted a retrial to former Vernon man William Schneider, convicted of second-degree murder in the 2016 death of Japanese exchange student Natsumi Kogawa. The trial is set to begin May 24, 2022. (Vancouver Police Department photo)
Retrial date set for former Okanagan man’s murder conviction

William Schneider’s trial, connected to the death of Natsumi Kogawa, is set for May 2022

Brian Peach rescues ducklings from a storm drain in Smithers May 12. (Lauren L’Orsa video screen shot)
VIDEO: Smithers neighbours rescue ducklings from storm drain

Momma and babies made it safely back to the creek that runs behind Turner Way

Signage for ICBC, the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, is shown in Victoria, B.C., on February 6, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
$150 refunds issued to eligible customers following ICBC’s switch to ‘enhanced care’

Savings amassed from the insurance policy change will lead to one-time rebates for close to 4 million customers

Police investigate a fatal 2011 shooting in a strip mall across from Central City Shopping Centre, which was deemed a gang hit. The Mayor’s Gang Task Force zeroed in on ways to reduce gang involvement and activity. (File photo)
COVID-19 could be a cause in public nature of B.C. gang violence: expert

Martin Bouchard says the pandemic has changed people’s routines and they aren’t getting out of their homes often, which could play a role in the brazen nature of shootings

Most Read