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

Winnie Peters, centre, spoke about the loss of two husbands over the years, both of who were murdered. The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls event in Hope on May 5, 2021 included prayers for men who have been killed as well. (Jessica Peters/ Hope Standard)
Red dresses hang in Hope’s Memorial Park in remembrance

Group gathers for National Day of Awareness of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

Motorists breaking travel rules can be fined $230 for failing to follow instructions or $575 if the reason for travel violates the essential travel health order, at this Highway 3 check area near Manning Park. Photo RCMP
RCMP begin checking drivers on BC highways

Four check points are set up Thursday May 6 around the province

UBC Sports Hall of Famer Carrie (Watson) Watts (far right, front row) helped lead the UBC Thunderbirds to the 2004 national championship, their first since 1974. She served as assistant coach a few years after graduation. (Photo/UBC)
Agassiz-born basketball star inducted into UBC Sports Hall of Fame

Carrie (Watson) Watts helped lead the team to their first championship in decades

The Aquilini Investment Group has agreed to a proposed contract of five years to run the Abbotsford Centre. (File photo)
Proposal to run Abbotsford Centre offered to Canucks ownership group

Planned five-year contract to cost city $750K annually, starting Jan. 1, 2022

JANGO the police dog helped track down a suspect on Luckakuck Way in Chilliwack. (RCMP photo)
Alleged thief in Chilliwack can’t fool the nose of JANGO the police dog

An Edmonton man who allegedly broke into a storage container on Luckakuck Way was arrested

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

A worker rides a bike at a B.C. Hydro substation in Vancouver, on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
BC Hydro report raises safety concerns as pandemic prompts jump in yard work

Incidents involving weekend tree trimmers, gardeners and landscapers have risen 30% since the pandemic hit

Surrey RCMP is investigating after a serious three-vehicle crash at the intersection of King George Boulevard and 128th Street Thursday afternoon (May 6, 2021). (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
VIDEO: Serious crash in Surrey sends 1 to hospital

Surrey RCMP say one of the drivers fled on foot, but was later found at an area hospital

Starting Tuesday, May 11, B.C. adults born in 1981 and earlier will be able to register for a vaccine dose. (Haley Ritchie/Black Press Media)
BC adults 40+ eligible to book COVID-19 vaccinations next week

Starting Tuesday, people born in 1981 and earlier will be able to schedule their inoculation against the virus

John Paul Fraser, executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association. (Screen shot)
Salmon farmers warn Surrey jobs on line as feds end Discovery Islands operations

344 full-time jobs at risk in Surrey and 1,189 B.C.-wide

Parks Canada and Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks dig the washed up Princess M out from sand along the south shore of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Rescue attempt costs man his boat off Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Coast Guard response questioned after volunteer responder’s speedboat capsizes in heavy swells

Al Kowalko shows off the province’s first electric school bus, running kids to three elementary and two secondary schools on the West Shore. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
B.C.’s first electric school bus making the rounds in Victoria suburbs

No emissions, no fuel costs and less maintenance will offset the $750K upfront expense

Road sign on Highway 1 west of Hope warns drivers of COVID-19 essential travel road checks on the highways into the B.C. Interior. (Jessica Peters/Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. residents want travel checks at Alberta border, MLA says

Police road checks in place at highways out of Vancouver area

Victoria police say the photo they circulated of an alleged cat thief was actually a woman taking her own cat to the vet. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Photo of suspected cat thief released by Victoria police actually just woman with her pet

Police learned the she didn’t steal Penelope the cat, and was actually taking her cat to the vet

Most Read