When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its guidelines earlier this month for those who’ve gotten vaccinated against COVID-19, many breathed a sigh of relief.
Finally, after almost a full year of social distancing, hand-washing, and wearing masks, the CDC said it was OK for individuals who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to spend time with other family members and friends — under certain limited conditions.
But what do the new guidelines mean for current and former cancer patients? And how do they apply to anyone who is immunocompromised?
“If you are a current cancer patient or immunocompromised, the short answer is that nothing has changed,” says Chief Infection Control Officer Roy Chemaly, M.D. “Even if you are fully vaccinated, you cannot let your guard down.”
Why cancer patients should remain vigilant even after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine
The reason for Chemaly’s caution is simple: while all three COVID-19 vaccines with emergency use authorization provide some level of protection against both a severe case of COVID-19 and the possibility of hospitalization or death because of it, none of them offers absolute protection against infection. That means some small degree of risk still exists, even if you’ve been fully vaccinated.
“And, because cancer patients’ immune systems may not be up to par, they may not respond the same way as the average person’s,” says Chemaly. “So, they may not be as protected as healthier individuals and they may still develop symptomatic COVID-19.”
Also, because the SARS-CoV-2 (coronavirus) is still so new, much remains uncertain — including whether fully vaccinated people can develop mild or asymptomatic COVID-19 infections.
“We know the vaccines protect most people from severe infection and hospitalization, but not necessarily mild or asymptomatic cases,” Chemaly says. “The data looks good so far, but we just don’t know yet.”
What this means for current and former cancer patients
So, what does all of this mean for you?
If you’re a former cancer patient who’s no longer in active treatment and you’re not considered immunocompromised, you can follow the CDC’s new guidelines:
You may visit with other people indoors, without wearing a mask, if everyone present has been fully vaccinated. Fully vaccinated means it’s been at least two weeks since someone has received either the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the single dose of Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine.
You may spend time unmasked indoors with a small group of unvaccinated people from another household, provided none of them are at increased risk, and you’ve been fully vaccinated.
If you’re a current cancer patient, it means you should stay the course, and continue doing everything you’ve been doing for the past year to safeguard your health, including:
Wearing a mask in public
Keeping your distance from anyone who doesn’t live with you