Prioritise cancer, HIV patients for COVID-19 vaccination: Experts

The second phase includes the elderly and people with comorbidities, as they are vulnerable.

Published: 30th January 2021 06:22 AM  |   Last Updated: 30th January 2021 01:25 PM   |  A+A-

Covaxin the largest vaccine drive been administered to the recipients at Rajiv Gandhi Government hospital in Chennai on Saturday.

Representational Image. (File | Ashwin Prasath/EPS)

Express News Service

BENGALURU: Experts have called for the inclusion of immunocompromised people such as those with cancer and people who live with HIV as a priority group.

The second phase includes the elderly and people with comorbidities, as they are vulnerable. Regional director for head and neck surgical oncology at HCG Cancer Centre Dr Vishal Rao, said that people who have cancer are particularly vulnerable due to the immunocompromising nature of cancer treatment.

"On top of that, progressing cancer itself depletes the immune system and leave patients susceptible to infection. The risk to these patients from Covid is high and risks from vaccines appear very low. Most should be vaccinated. Not much research has been done with cancer patients and safety aspects. At the same time, we need to learn from these patients and follow them closely for both efficacy and safety," he said.

While Dr Vishwanath S, consultant for medical oncology at Apollo Cancer Centre, said that while some aspects of the disease and the treatment would influence when a patient could take the shot, he added, "I strongly recommend keeping cancer patients on the priority list, once the vaccine is made available to the public."

However, head of medical oncology at Sakra World Hospital, Dr Vineet Gupta, called for more research.

"The important thing is to realise that while there is an urgent need to vaccinate people whose immune status is immune-compromised or who have lower immunity than the general population, we don't have enough data to support the vaccination of cancer patients on priority. As research progresses, these guidelines will change. Until then, vaccinated or not, everybody needs to wear masks, and avoid large gatherings," he said.

People with HIV 

Vaccine developers such as Oxford University, whose vaccine Covishield is being used in India, have included HIV positive people in clinical trials. 

"We would definitely recommend that HIV patients take the Covid vaccine when offered. People living with HIV who have low CD4 count and high viral load are at high risk of infection. Being inactivated vaccines, we would assume that they are safe. There is no evidence at present to say that current vaccines are unsafe for HIV positive people," said Dr Swathi Rajagopal, consultant of infectious diseases at Aster CMI Hospital. 

The CD4 cells count indicates the degree of immune depletion and the viral load indicates the production rate of HIV virions.

Consultant for infectious diseases at Manipal Hospitals, Dr Neha Mishra, said, "Most available inactivated adult vaccines can be given to patients with a CD4 count of over 200 after appropriate discussion."

She said that HIV positive people could be given the vaccine after discussions between patients, caregivers and doctors. 


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