Vaccines led to huge cut in hospitalisations and deaths from COVID-19 for cancer patients

A syringe with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine
A syringe with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine Copyright Lea Suzuki/AP
By Luke Hurst
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In a first of its kind study, researchers found the rollout of vaccines led to a huge drop in hospitalisations and deaths from COVID-19 amid cancer patients.


The rollout of coronavirus vaccines led to a significant fall in COVID-related hospitalisations and deaths in cancer patients, a new study has revealed.

In the first panoramic study of its kind, researchers looked at the impact of the COVID-19pandemic on cancer patients across a 21-month period between November 2020 and August 2022.

The team led by the University of Birmingham found hospitalisations in the period fell from nearly one in three patients (30.58 per cent) to one in 13 (7.45 per cent). For deaths related to COVID, the rate fell from more than one in five (20.53 per cent), to less than one in 30 (3.25 per cent).

The study also found that age was a greater predictor of death rates than the type of cancer a patient had. In 2022, the mortality rate for cancer patients over the age of 80 was more than one in ten (10.32 per cent), compared with less than one in 35 for under 80s (2.83 per cent).

COVID-19 infections leave cancer patients more than twice as likely to be hospitalised than the general population, and 2.54 times more likely to die.

Cancer patients can be at higher risk of COVID-19 infection complications because cancer, and its treatment, can weaken the immune system. This means some cancer patients are less able to fight off infections.

"People living with cancer are worried that they have been forgotten,” said Dr Lennard Lee from the Institute of Cancer and Genomic Sciences at the University of Birmingham and lead author of the study.

“Our work shows that the UK is emerging out of the tunnel of the global pandemic, and we know who are still at the greatest risk of the consequences of COVID-19 infection so that they're not left behind.”

“This data is undoubtedly good news for cancer patients, but despite significant falls in hospitalisations and mortality over the years we studied we can still see the additional risk,” he added.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said in May this year that COVID-19 was no longer a global health emergency, which marked a symbolic end to the devastating pandemic that triggered lockdowns and further restrictions around the world.

At least 7 million people have died as a result of COVID-19 worldwide.

While COVID is no longer being labelled a global emergency, millions of people are still dealing with the lingering effects of infection. A recent UK study found that the impact of long COVID on people’s cognitive functions was equal to ageing them 10 years.

Thomas Starkey, PhD researcher from the University of Birmingham and first author of the study said: "By collating and analysing electronic healthcare data for evaluating the real-world impact of the global pandemic in the UK, we can now use population-scale data to protect people living with cancer from infectious diseases such as COVID-19."

The research is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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