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Is the COVID Vaccine Safe and Effective for Waldenström Macroglobulinemia (WM) Patients?

Is the COVID Vaccine Safe and Effective for Waldenström Macroglobulinemia (WM) Patients? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Shayna Sarosiek of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute discusses the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine for Waldenström macroglobulinemia (WM) patients.

Dr. Shayna Sarosiek is a hematologist and oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute where she cares for Waldenström macroglobulinemia (WM) patients at the Bing Center for Waldenstrom’s. Dr. Sarsosiek is also Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Learn more about Dr. Sarosiek, here.

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This is a question on many people’s minds these days. Is the COVID vaccine safe and effective for people with Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia?  

Dr. Sarosiek:

So, in general, we highly recommend the COVID vaccines for our patients with Waldenstrom’s. We think it’s very helpful; it’s usually very safe for patients. But the one caveat is that it’s sometimes not as effective for patients with Waldenstrom’s as it is for patients who are otherwise healthy. There are a lot of data coming out that the antibodies or the part of the immune system is not responding as well in patients with Waldenstrom’s as in other healthy patients.  

And so, Waldenstrom’s patients often need to get more doses of vaccines to get the same effectiveness as healthy patients might. And so, it’s really important to follow up with your provider to really get a good idea of how many doses you can have or should have. And the other really important part of that is making sure that those are time appropriately with your therapy. Because we know that the effectiveness of the vaccine is really related any recent therapies that patients might have had.  

So, making sure that’s an open conversation with your physician about if it’s the right time to get your next vaccine. And if its’ not the time for the vaccine or if the vaccine is not going to be effective for you, there are potential other options such as Evusheld, which is an antibody against COVID that can offer similar efficacy as a vaccine might in terms of giving you antibodies if your own body can’t make them. 


And when you refer to COVID vaccine doses, are you including the boosters? That people should be getting? 

Dr. Sarosiek:

Yeah. So, initially patients should have a core series of vaccines essentially. So, in most people – in healthy people – that’s generally two doses are considered the core before you start boosters. In patients with Waldenstrom’s or patients who are immunosuppressed, that initial core series is three vaccines. And then the ones after that would be considered the booster vaccines. 

Can A Shot From Your Doc Prevent Cancer?

Vaccines for highly contagious childhood illness — such as diphtheria, measles, and the mumps — are, for many, an everyday part of pediatric health care.  Even though our kids may scream piteously as the needle goes in, many parents feel that it’s a good thing to protect their children from what were once very common illnesses.

Now this same concept is being applied to cancer.Amy Gray

Along with the growing interest in immunotherapy to treat cancer, there is now growing interest in the idea of preventing cancer through using the body’s own mechanisms to fight disease.  There are several vaccines that have gone through clinical trials and been approved by the FDA: Gardasil®, Gardasil 9®, and Cervarix®.  There are also several vaccines that work against Hepatitis B.

Gardasil®, Gardasil 9®, and Cervarix®were formulated to protect against the human papillomavirus (HPV) that can be spread through sexual intercourse.  Studies have shown that long-term exposure to HPV can cause cervical canceranal canceroropharyngeal cancer, and vaginalvulvar, and penile cancers. These vaccines protect against the human papillomavirus (HPV) taking up residence in the body.

Long-term exposure to Hepatitis B virus (HBV)  impairs liver function and can lead to liver cancer. So researchers have designated HBV as the target of multiple vaccines that protect against this infection.  Two vaccines, Engerix-B and Recombivax HB, target only Hepatitis B. Other vaccines such as Twinrix and Pediatrix protect against HBV and other harmful viruses. Clinical trials are underway to develop vaccines to prevent cancers of the bladder, brain, breast, prostate, and kidneys, among others.

Using vaccines to protect and prevent cancers is just beginning.  It is showing great promise as research shows the interrelationship of various viruses and cancer development.