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UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center was one of 130 cancer centers, research organizations and advocacy groups that sent a letter this week to President Biden that urged his administration to give cancer patients and recently treated survivors priority access to the COVID-19 vaccines.

Lisa Carey and Jon Serody
UNC Lineberger’s Lisa A. Carey, MD, FASCO, and Jonathan Serody, MD.

“Having cancer is challenging in the best of times, but research has shown that COVID-19 poses a serious risk to many cancer patients,” said Lisa A. Carey, MD, FASCO, UNC Lineberger deputy director of clinical sciences. “It is critical – and it should be national health priority – for cancer patients to have immediate access to a COVID-19 vaccine.”

In the letter, the organizations noted that recent research has shown that patients with cancer are at increased risk of severe illness and death if they are infected with the virus. Moreover, patients with cancer often receive frequent in-person care, which increases their risk of exposure to the virus. “Certain survivors of cancer, for example those who have undergone a bone marrow or stem cell transplant or recently received immune suppressing drugs, have a higher probability of infection and COVID-19-related death. Thus, vaccinating this population should be an urgent priority,” said Jonathan Serody, MD, immunology expert and director of the UNC Cellular Therapy Program.

Cancer is a collection of diseases that kills more than 600,000 Americans each year, making it the second leading cause of death in the U.S.,” the authors wrote. “Therefore, we are asking for your assistance in ensuring that patients with active cancer…and recent survivors are prioritized to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.”