Dr. Julie Gralow answers queries on COVID-19 vaccine.
How can we be sure the vaccines are safe if they were produced and approved in such a short period of time?
The medical community has been working to make COVID-19 vaccines available as soon as possible since the epidemic began. Health has always been a top priority, even though this accelerated timetable is unprecedented. To further ensure that the COVID-19 vaccines are protected, strict precautions have been placed in place. COVID-19 vaccines have undergone comprehensive research, including large-scale clinical trials involving tens of thousands of individuals.
The US Food and Drug Administration has granted Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to three COVID-19 vaccines (FDA). This means the FDA has carefully checked all safety evidence from clinical trials and approved their emergency use because the anticipated benefits are thought to outweigh the possible risks. The FDA is continuing to track the safety of COVID-19 vaccines to ensure that any long-term side effects, as well as exceptionally rare side effects, are known.
Will the vaccine cause any side effects? Is it going to make me sick?
In the general population, the COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to be safe and reliable. The use of COVID-19 vaccines in cancer patients has not been related to any serious safety issues.
Pain in the arm where the vaccine was administered, tiredness, headache, muscle and joint pain, chills, and fever are all common side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine. Side effects typically appear 2 to 3 days after administering the vaccine and become more pronounced with the second dose. They usually go away within a week, if not a few days. Those under the age of 55 are more likely to experience side effects. These side effects are usually an indication that your immune system is doing its job, which is to function and build up immunity against disease.
Since a small number of people have developed an allergic reaction to the vaccines’ ingredients, it’s important to inform your doctor if you’ve ever had an allergic reaction to a prior vaccine or medicine.
On the side on which they got the shot, some people have reported transient swelling of the lymph nodes in the axilla (armpit) or supraclavicular region (above the collar bone). Since this potential side effect may be misinterpreted as a symptom of breast cancer, it’s best to wait up to a month after obtaining the COVID-19 vaccine before getting a mammogram.
Will I get COVID-19 from the vaccine or will I test positive for it?
The live virus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes COVID-19 is not present in any of the FDA-approved vaccines. This means they won’t be able to make you ill or spread COVID-19 to others.
None of the approved vaccines will make you test positive for COVID-19 viral tests, which are used to see whether you’re infected right now. There’s a chance you’ll test positive on certain COVID-19 antibody tests if your body produces an immune response, which is the purpose of vaccination. Antibody tests show that you were previously contaminated. Experts are currently investigating the impact of COVID-19 vaccination on antibody testing outcomes.
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What is the mechanism of action of the vaccines? Can the mRNA vaccines alter my genetic makeup?
In the United States, three COVID-19 vaccines are currently available:
BioNTech vaccine from
A new vaccine has been developed.
Vaccine from Johnson & Johnson (Janssen).
COVID vaccines operate by teaching the body’s immune system how to identify and combat the virus that causes COVID-19 infection, preventing you from becoming ill. All of them have been shown to be successful in reducing the risk of contracting COVID-19 as well as the risk of developing serious disease if infected.
Message RNA is found in the Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna vaccines (mRNA). mRNA is a type of genetic material contained in the COVID-19 virus that instructs our cells on how to produce a virus-specific, harmless protein. Following vaccination, the mRNA enters the body’s cells and instructs them to make copies of the COVID-19 virus’s “spike” protein, which helps the virus infect human cells. This does not cause disease, but it does assist the immune system in learning to identify and react to the virus if the body is exposed to it again. COVID-19 vaccine mRNA does not reach the nucleus of the cell, which is where our DNA is stored. This means that mRNA has no impact on or interaction with our DNA.
The vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) is a vector vaccine. It contains a weakened variant of a live virus that is not the same as the virus that triggers COVID-19. The COVID-19 virus’s genetic material has been incorporated into this weakened live virus. This is referred to as a viral vector. This vaccine’s adenovirus has been altered so that it can no longer replicate in the body or cause disease. In the lab, the virus was updated to include a gene (a piece of DNA) for the COVID-19 virus’s spike protein. The genetic material instructs cells to replicate the spike protein, which is special to the COVID-19 virus. This helps our bodies to grow immune systems in order to identify and defeat the virus if we are ever exposed to it again.
Both the COVID-19 mRNA and vector vaccines interact with the body’s natural immune defenses to develop disease immunity. Our bodies understand that the COVID-19 proteins should not be present and produce unique white blood cells known as T cells and B cells that remember how to battle the COVID-19 virus.
What is the safest COVID-19 vaccine?
No medical associations have recommended one form of COVID vaccine over another for people with cancer, cancer survivors, or others at this time. Many health experts agree that having the vaccine as soon as it is available to you, regardless of which one it is, is more important than waiting for a particular vaccine.
Why are certain vaccines needed to be given twice?
COVID-19 mRNA vaccines come in two doses, and both are recommended for the best defence against COVID-19. The first shot helps the immune system identify the virus, while the second shot, provided several weeks later, improves the immune system’s response.
Vaccination is a personal decision. What difference does it make if I get the vaccine?
Both the COVID-19 virus and the vaccines are novel, and we really don’t know anything about them. What we do know is that COVID-19 has caused a lot of people to become sick and die. We also know that COVID-19 has a high chance of causing complications in cancer patients.
Even though many people with COVID-19 only have a mild illness, some can develop a serious illness, experience long-term health effects, or even die. Even if you don’t have an elevated risk of serious complications, there’s no way to tell how COVID-19 can affect you. If you contract COVID-19, you run the risk of infecting others, making them really sick.
One of the precautions you should take to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 is to get vaccinated. COVID-19 infection has been shown to be substantially reduced by all three of the approved vaccines. If you are infected with COVID-19, they have also been shown to be very effective at reducing the risk of developing serious illness, being hospitalised, or dying from it.
Stopping a pandemic necessitates the use of all available resources. Masks and social isolation help to reduce the risk of becoming infected or spreading the virus to others. Vaccines function in combination with the immune system to train the body to combat the infection if you become infected. The strongest defence against COVID-19 is a combination of vaccination and following public health guidelines to protect yourself and others from virus exposure.
My immune system is being suppressed as a result of my cancer treatment. How do we know if the vaccine will operate on my body?
Since the COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials enrolled a small number of people who were undergoing active cancer care, data on the efficacy and safety of the approved vaccines in cancer patients is minimal. It is currently unclear how well the vaccine performs in people who have cancer and a compromised immune system. However, there is no reason to believe the COVID-19 vaccines are unsafe for cancer patients. Immunocompromised persons are not at risk from the vaccines. However, as compared to people in the general population, they could have lower immune responses.
Researchers are looking at when the best time is to give the COVID vaccine to people who are undergoing active cancer care so that it is as successful as possible. Since certain treatments, such as chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or radiation therapy, may reduce the vaccine’s effectiveness, your doctor may advise you to get the vaccine before or after your treatments. It is not recommended that cancer treatments be stopped in order to obtain the vaccine. Your cancer care will not be affected by the vaccine. If you’ve had a bone marrow/stem cell transplant or cellular therapy, such as chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy, you may need to postpone the vaccine.
Clinical studies have shown that vaccinations reduce the risk of getting COVID-19 disease and complications, but it is still uncertain if these vaccines prevent COVID-19 infection and transmission to others. As a result, vaccinated patients and near friends should continue to wear masks, follow social distancing guidelines, and adhere to other COVID-19 prevention recommendations. When the vaccine becomes available, caregivers, other members of the family, and other close contacts are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated.
This interview was published on www.cancer.net. Read the full text here.
Interview by Dr. Julie Gralow, MD, FACP, FASCO, is the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) and Executive Vice President of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). Previously, she was the Jill Bennett Endowed Professor of Breast Cancer at the University of Washington School of Medicine, Professor in the Clinical Research division of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and Director of Breast Medical Oncology at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. Dr. Gralow is the founder of the Women’s Empowerment Cancer Advocacy Network (WE CAN), supporting patient advocates in low-resource and middle-resource countries. In 2018, Dr. Gralow received the ASCO Humanitarian Award for her work in empowering women with cancer and survivors around the globe.