"After a year of cancer treatment, I wasn't willing to die from COVID," survey respondent.
A cancer diagnosis often comes with feelings of helplessness and loss of control over your body and the choices you can make. So perhaps it’s not surprising that when it comes to getting the COVID-19 vaccine, new research shows that more than 80% have already had at least one dose.
For many, it’s allowed them to take back some control over their health and to protect themselves, their loved ones, and members of their community from getting COVID-19.
“I had to fight cancer that was out of my control but getting the vaccine was a no brainer because it was something I could do to try to stop getting COVID, plus protecting me and my loved ones - worth it,” survey respondent.
Between August and September this year, Cancer Council Victoria and the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, surveyed more than 1,500 people who were diagnosed with cancer in the past five years, about their attitudes and experiences of the COVID-19 vaccine program.
Given people with cancer who contract COVID-19 are twice as likely to have severe symptoms and require hospital treatment, vaccination is highly recommended for the majority of patients.
“I was concerned about how the vaccine would react to my chemo cancer treatment that’s why I put it off until my doctor suggested it may be worse to get COVID with my compromised immune system," survey respondent.
Danielle Spence, head of cancer information and support services at Cancer Council Victoria, said the national data was collected to help inform how health organisations could better support people affected by cancer and help them to understand and access the vaccines.
“We’ve been getting many calls to our 13 11 20 information and support line from people with concerns, as well as hearing from clinicians that they’re fielding a lot of questions about the COVID-19 vaccines,” said Danielle.
“Cancer is complex and stressful already, add a global pandemic to the mix and it’s not surprising people have questions and concerns.
“There’s a lot of misinformation out there, and without reliable data we needed to know how wide-spread the concerns were or the barriers to getting the vaccines.”
COVID-19 vaccination is highly recommended for the majority of cancer patients.
“People who were unvaccinated reported greater concerns about potential side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine (including blood clots), the long-term safety of the COVID-19 vaccine, vaccine development and whether the vaccine is effective for cancer patients,” Danielle said.
“Further analysis of the data is ongoing to better understand the reasons why some people are still hesitating or refusing to get the vaccine, so we can try to alleviate these concerns.”
The survey also asked people about the intention of friends and family to get vaccinated. When asked, 'Do you know if your family or friends intend to get a COVID-19 vaccine?' 72% said 'definitely', 20% 'probably', 6% 'I'm not sure' and less than 2% selected 'probably not'.
Not surprisingly, the vaccine debate is even more polarising amongst people affected by cancer, given the life-threatening consequences for people with cancer if they contract it.
“I have family members who are anti COVID-19 vaccine. This makes me anxious and may change our relationship because of my cancer diagnosis, recent active treatment, and the efficacy of my vaccine,” survey respondent.
While the findings are very positive, the results represent only a small cohort of people affected by cancer, so more still needs to be done to make sure all Victorians know where to access accurate information.
This is why Cancer Council Victoria has launched a new campaign encouraging people to ‘Get Factsinated'. It includes commonly asked questions that are updated as new information and advice is released, including the recent decision to provide people who are immunocompromised with a third dose of the vaccine.
“With a lot of misinformation circulating from unreliable sources, we felt it was vital that people get the facts from an independent and evidence-based organisation,” said Danielle.
“We really want people to know there’s support and trusted information available to help them make informed decisions during this really difficult time.
“Anyone with a question about cancer, can call us on 13 11 20 during business hours to speak with an experienced cancer nurse for information and support.”
Most of the responses we received to the survey were from women (~82%), people that completed a university degree (~49%), people who speak English as a first language (~94%) and aged 25-59 (~56%). A small proportion of respondents identified as Aboriginal.
Just over 40% were still receiving cancer treatment when they completed the survey, most (~58%) had early-stage cancer and the most common cancer reported was breast (~50%), followed by haematological cancers (~14%).
Ongoing analysis of the data is currently taking place. A final report will be released in the coming months and you can contact us for more information about the survey.
Thank you to our community representatives and colleagues working across national cancer advocacy and support organisations who helped promote the survey and especially to the people willing to share their experience by completing our survey.