A magazine for friends of the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

COVID Still Risky for Cancer Patients


Even those who are fully vaccinated have high rates of hospitalization and death with breakthrough infections.

The first study to evaluate the clinical characteristics and outcomes of vaccinated (but not boosted) patients with cancer who had breakthrough COVID-19 infections indicates they remained at high risk for hospitalization and death.

The study, published in Annals of Oncology, showed that vaccinated patients who experienced breakthrough COVID-19 infections had a hospitalization rate of 65 percent, an ICU or mechanical ventilation rate of 19 percent, and a 13 percent death rate. Data for the study was collected before booster vaccines were recommendation for patients with cancer by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study was conducted by the COVID-19 and Cancer Consortium, a group of 129 research centers that is tracking the impact of COVID-19 on patients with cancer. The Lifespan Cancer Institute and Brown University are among the participating institutions.

“These findings come at a time of concerns that immune escape mutants such as the omicron strain may emerge from chronically infected patients with weakened immune systems,” says Dimitrios Farmakiotis, MD, an associate professor of medicine and a senior author of the study. “Thus, the immunosuppressed and their close contacts should be target groups for therapeutic and preventive interventions, including community-level outreach and educational efforts.”

Similar high COVID-19 mortality rates among fully vaccinated individuals have been reported in other immunocompromised patient populations, such as organ transplant recipients, prior to the utilization of additional vaccine doses, Farmakiotis says.

At the time the study was conducted, patients were considered fully vaccinated after having received two doses of either the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine or the Moderna vaccine, or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, with the last dose long enough before breakthrough COVID-19 to consider them fully vaccinated. The data were collected from November 2020 through May 2021, before booster vaccines were recommended by the CDC.

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