Dr. James Berenson

On the heels of his study,  Dr. James  Berenson — an oncologist specializing in multiple myeloma —announced his latest findings and with his cancer patients, shared their challenging experiences during this pandemic.

The patients addressed the many safety concerns and strict measures that still must be taken as COVID-19 cases persist including the serious impact anti-vaccine rhetoric has had on cancer patients.

In Dr. Berenson’s recently published study, the majority of vaccinated cancer patients did not stimulate an effective immune response to the vaccine and therefore remain unprotected. There were also major differences in the effectiveness of the two messenger RNA vaccines in this patient population.

“I am urging all of my patients to get ‘revaccinated’ as soon as possible,” Berenson said. “I am not referring to the third shot as a ‘booster shot,’ because in the majority of cases of the patients in my study, they didn’t get the benefit of a vaccine that they can boost. It just didn’t work on them. They need to try again by getting ‘revaccinated’.”

The Moderna vaccine appeared to work best on the cancer patients included in his study. 

“Cancer patients are the most vulnerable right now,” Berenson said. “They have many questions that I am trying to answer as we learn more each day and more studies are conducted.”

“I can treat my patients with the best available treatments to fight cancer and they fight hard. However, all of these efforts can come undone in an instant — if even to and from my office, they are exposed to someone who is refusing to wear a mask or get vaccinated; and, as a result, infects patients with this virus. I have lost patients to COVID-19 who didn’t follow the recommended mandates for vaccination and were around others who were lax. It cost them their lives.”

He shared that it is most upsetting for him as an oncologist when his patient’s cancer was under control but in the end, the patient died not from cancer but instead from COVID-19.

The doctor said the best way to stop the spread of the virus “is to not let your guard down and get vaccinated. COVID-19 and the  Delta variant are still highly contagious, especially for my patients, right now many of them are unprotected through no fault of their own. They simply did not respond to their vaccines.”

Cancer patients who are at greater risk to get COVID-19 must take every measure and limit their activities and sequester because anti-vaxxers and those who ignore mask mandates walk freely and attend large events.

Patients with myeloma, a type of blood cancer, could be especially vulnerable because the COVID-19 vaccines may not be as effective in people with suppressed immune systems.

Berenson found that patients with multiple myeloma didn’t respond as well as healthy people do to mRNA vaccines.

“We found that in the patients who received the vaccination, that 45% had a normal response, 22% had an impaired response, and 33% had no response,” he said.

Berenson adds that the list of people with compromised immune systems includes “older folks, those who are on immunosuppressive therapies like patients with lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and psoriatic arthritis.

Cancer Patients Speak Out

Patients point out that having cancer is hard enough but having cancer during a pandemic doubles the risk.

“It’s hard enough fighting cancer, but we have to contend with the real danger that if we are exposed to COVID-19, we don’t have the same capacity to fight it in the same way that others do,” a patient said.

“We work really hard to get to our cancer treatments and suffer the side effects of treatment so that we can add more time to our life, I was vaccinated, but it didn’t work on me. So, right now, my life may depend on others I may encounter getting vaccinated and wearing a mask.”

“It has been very concerning for us as cancer patients to see anti-mask demonstrations,” said another patient. “Many anti-vaxxers and those who refuse to wear masks think it’s their personal right and only impacts them. This is absolutely wrong and selfish because they are carriers and spreaders that cause others to get sick and even die.

“They don’t seem to understand, It’s more than your rights as an individual, it’s not just about your life; you protect many lives when you put your mask on and vaccinate,” his patient said.

“The numbers speak for themselves; we are in a pandemic of the unvaccinated and we need to protect each other, especially those who are the most vulnerable,” Berenson said. ”We are all in this together.”

Dr. Berenson is the founder, President, and Medical and Scientific Director of the Institute for Myeloma and Bone Cancer Research. He specializes in Multiple Myeloma, a common type of blood cancer that affects the immune system and starts in specific white blood cells called plasma cells. These cells are found mostly in the bone marrow and are an important part of the immune system because they produce the antibodies used by our bodies to fight infections.

To read Dr. Berenson’s study go to: Response to mRNA vaccination for COVID-19 among patients with multiple myeloma – Leukemia <https://doi.org/10.1038/s41375-021-01354-7>