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Leading Experts Provide Guidance on Maximizing COVID-19 Protection among Blood Cancer Patients

Rye Brook, N.Y., September 21, 2021 – A diverse group of cancer experts from leading academic institutions (UCLA, Emory University, NYU, Stanford University), the National Cancer Institute, and The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) published recommendations for maximizing protection against COVID-19 among patients with blood cancer. The paper was published online in Blood Cancer Discovery, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.


“While blood cancer patients are particularly vulnerable to the worst outcomes of COVID-19, including hospitalization and death, they are also among the least protected by vaccines,” says LLS Chief Scientific Officer Lee Greenberger, Ph.D. Recommendations for protecting them during the current phase of the pandemic include:

  • Priority administration of additional vaccine doses to patients with blood cancer
  • Continued adherence to wearing masks and social distancing
  • Frequent COVID testing, even among those vaccinated, and quick initiation of treatment (monoclonal antibodies, convalescent plasma, antiviral therapies) in those who are infected
  • Vaccination of those in close contact with people with blood cancer, including caregivers and household contacts aged 12 years and older
  • Mandated COVID-19 vaccination for all health care system staff and a call to provide staff with priority vaccine administration to main high levels of protection in this group
  • Develop a deeper understanding of the entire immune response to vaccination in blood cancer patients, including a better understanding of the relationship between the level of antibodies after vaccination and possible breakthrough infections in such patients.

The authors stress that patients should proceed with their cancer treatments despite the COVID-19 pandemic. However, since some treatments interfere with vaccine response, cancer treatment may be delayed if feasible to optimize vaccine response.


Authors also provide largest analysis-to-date of COVID-19 vaccine response in people with blood cancer.

The authors completed the largest analysis to date evaluating COVID-19 vaccine response among thousands of people with blood cancer across the world. Their findings reinforce and confirm results from LLS studies showing that many blood cancer patients have an impaired antibody response to COVID-19 vaccines.

While healthy people have a vaccine seroconversion rate between 89-100%, patient with most types of blood cancers have lower rates. Patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia and non-Hodgkin Lymphoma have a particularly low seroconversion rates, ranging from 39% to 75%.

Their analysis also confirmed that patients treated with anti-CD20 antibodies and BTK inhibitors also have lower seropositive after COVID-19 vaccination.

These findings reinforce the need to continue answering crucial questions for blood cancer patients relating to COVID-19 vaccines. Since February 2021, LLS has called on patients and survivors to join its National Patient Registry, to gather vital information from a large pool of people affected by blood cancers. Read more about our recent findings on an additional COVID-19 vaccine dose here.