SINGAPORE - More cancer patients are taking up Covid-19 vaccination, according to National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), which sees the majority of cancer cases in the public sector.
"With the current surge in Covid-19 cases, we are seeing more patients taking up the vaccination," says Associate Professor Iain Tan, senior consultant at the centre's division of medical oncology.
He adds that about 8,500 of NCCS' cancer patients are on "active cancer treatment", such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy, with 68 per cent of them fully vaccinated, 8 per cent partially vaccinated and 24 per cent unvaccinated.
"Vaccination can reduce the risk of severe complications, like organ failure or pneumonia, or death from Covid-19 infection. This is particularly important for cancer patients who may be at higher risk, should infection occur.
"Our NCCS doctors will continue to encourage all patients who are eligible to get vaccinated as soon as possible," says Prof Tan, who is a council member of the College of Clinician Scientists, Academy of Medicine Singapore.
Mr Lawrence Cher, 54, is a cancer patient who was initially unsure about taking the Covid-19 vaccine.
Diagnosed with stage four lung cancer in 2017, he was afraid that his ongoing cancer treatment would be affected by the vaccine.
On the other hand, if he remained unvaccinated, he was concerned that contracting Covid-19 might have a devastating impact on him, as his lungs had already been compromised.
He was also mindful that millions around the world have died from the coronavirus.
After mulling over the decision for two weeks, he was convinced by his oncologist.
Mr Cher, a sales manager in the construction industry, says: "My oncologist made me 100 per cent sure of my decision. He said my oral medication would not be affected and that other cancer patients had already taken the vaccine. I wouldn't be the first one."
He was glad that he took his two Moderna vaccine doses in April and May 2021 respectively, because he contracted Covid-19 in September.
Initially, he thought that he had a sore throat from eating durian-flavoured and salted-egg mooncakes during the Mid-Autumn Festival.
He "panicked for three days" after testing positive for Covid-19 after a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test in mid-September.
The bachelor was also worried that his elderly mother, with whom he lives, would be infected.
He self-isolated in a room at home and continued taking his pills for his cancer treatment. He quickly recovered within eight days, self-testing negative several times using antigen rapid tests.
While his symptoms - coughing, body aches, low fever and diarrhoea - were mild, he temporarily lost his sense of taste and smell. He was unable to smell his coffee or taste chilli padi, although his eyes watered on account of the heat of the tiny chillies. He estimates that he has since regained about 50 per cent of his smell and taste.
Mr Cher recently volunteered for a vaccination drive for seniors at a community centre. "The vaccine worked. It could have been worse for me. I made the right decision," he says.
To address the concerns of cancer patients, a free webinar, Covid-19 Vaccination For Cancer Patients: What You Need To Know, will be held on Oct 23.
Cancer and infectious diseases experts will speak at the virtual forum on how the mRNA vaccines work and why it is crucial for cancer patients to get vaccinated.
Organised by the College of Clinician Scientists and the Academy of Medicine Singapore, it is open to the public.
Says Prof Tan: "In general, there is much more data available in medical literature on the efficacy and safety of mRNA Covid-19 vaccines, particularly in cancer patients.
"From available data, mRNA vaccines are protective by several measures, such as antibody response and reduction in infection and severe infection."
The Pfizer-BioNTech/Comirnaty and Moderna vaccines use mRNA technology, unlike vaccines like Sinopharm and Sinovac, which are inactivated vaccines.
NCCS senior consultant Joanne Ngeow, who is moderating the webinar, says it is understandable that people with cancer may have concerns about the Covid-19 vaccines, as it is not easy to navigate the information on the coronavirus and its vaccines.
Associate Professor Ngeow, also honorary secretary at the College of Clinician Scientists, Academy of Medicine Singapore, says: "I believe it is important to provide a forum like this for patients and the public to ask burning questions, and discuss the topic with clinicians and scientists. This is especially important when research on Covid-19 is evolving rapidly.
"While every research study moves us closer to answers, it also gives rise to new questions. This is how science progresses and it is important to not mistake these for uncertainties... The medical community will continue to engage the public in scientific discussions with the aim of reducing the risk of misinformation."
She adds: "Many patients are worried that if they get any side effects from the vaccines, it will delay their treatments. For the vast majority of patients taking mRNA vaccines, their treating oncologist will schedule their vaccinations in such a way that their treatments are not affected."
Covid-19 Vaccination For Cancer Patients: What You Need To Know
When: Oct 23, 2021
Time: 2pm - 3.20pm