The CDC and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have authorized and recommended a second COVID-19 booster shot for people 50 and over and those with immunocompromising conditions. The American Society of Clinical Oncology website states, “Vaccination, including the use of booster doses and the use of different vaccines across doses, should take place according to current U.S. CDC and FDA recommendations.”
People who have ovarian cancer are typically considered immunocompromised, which can lead to an increased risk of severe disease and hospitalization with COVID-19. The new public health recommendations come after recent studies showed an immune response to the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines in many immunocompromised people, including individuals with cancer.
Some important details about these recommendations include the following:
If you are on the fence about whether to get vaccinated (or boosted) to protect against COVID-19, you may be wondering what scientists suggest. “Every ovarian cancer case — and patient — is different, so there is not a uniform approach that can be applied to all situations,” the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance notes. Your oncologist might advise timing your booster shot around your ovarian cancer treatments, so it’s important to consult with your providers before scheduling your vaccine appointment.
When it comes to booster shots, one review of previous studies found that people with solid tumors were able to raise their immune response against the COVID-19 omicron variant from 48 percent after their initial vaccinations to nearly 89 percent after their third vaccine doses. Ovarian cancer is one type of solid tumor cancer.
“Just got my second booster,” wrote one MyOvarianCancerTeam member. Another wrote, “Will be receiving my second COVID booster this afternoon.”
The CDC’s latest recommendations follow promising new results about the effectiveness of the vaccines in immunocompromised people. A recent study from Moffitt Cancer Center included people diagnosed with solid tumors and individuals with blood cancers. Researchers tested levels of antibodies, the proteins the immune system makes to help destroy a target. In this case, the antibodies were to SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19), made in response to the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
On average, researchers identified antibodies against the coronavirus in about 90 percent of people who’d received a second vaccine dose. About 98 percent of people with solid tumor cancers showed an antibody response.
Although this recent study included only people given the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19, other research has looked at the response of immunocompromised individuals to the Pfizer vaccine. These vaccines are based on the same technique, using a molecule called mRNA to teach cells how to make a protein that will trigger an immune system response and help prevent a SARS-CoV-2 infection.
In one study that included individuals with medical conditions that caused them to be immunocompromised (including cancer), immune system response was about 67 percent. However, individuals with solid malignancies made antibodies after vaccination about 83 percent of the time, according to the study results.
Additional doses of mRNA vaccines may be effective at increasing detectable antibodies in a similar way to the first and second doses. Other research indicates that antibody levels are likely to decrease over time, so getting booster doses at recommended intervals is necessary even in vaccinated people who made antibodies after their initial shots.
Simply making antibodies does not always necessarily translate to complete immunity from COVID-19 infection, but the findings from these studies are a good sign that the mRNA vaccines for COVID-19 can trigger strong responses even from compromised immune systems. It’s evidence that vaccines can protect people at higher risk of severe infections.
According to the CDC, getting vaccinated is still the best way to protect yourself and slow the spread of the virus.
MyOvarianCancerTeam is the online social support network for those with ovarian cancer, their caregivers, and their loved ones. Here, you can connect with other people who understand life with ovarian cancer. Members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand.
Are you planning to get another booster vaccine? Do you have concerns about vaccine effectiveness, vaccine response, or time of vaccination? Share your insights in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.