During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, governments and medical professionals are keen to provide COVID-19 vaccinations to as many eligible people as possible.

It is nonetheless understandable that some individuals with serious health conditions could feel uneasy about taking further medications on top of their existing treatments.

This article will focus on the relationship between COVID-19 vaccines and small-cell lung cancer (SCLC).

After explaining why it is important for people with SCLC to receive the vaccine, this article will address the safety concerns surrounding SCLC and COVID-19 vaccination. It will also discuss the effectiveness and side effects of COVID-19 vaccines.

A healthcare professional handling vials of COVID-19 vaccine for those with small cell lung cancer.Share on Pinterest
Chaiwat Subprasom/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

SCLCs make up around 15% of all lung cancers. This serious condition is rarely curable by the time of diagnosis. Nonetheless, for some people with SCLC, treatment can improve both the length and quality of life.

However, scientists did not develop SCLC treatments with COVID-19 in mind. This means that SCLC treatments do not protect against this new disease or help with its symptoms.

Moreover, a great deal of scientific evidence shows that people with lung cancer are especially vulnerable to COVID-19.

A 2021 study begins by noting that people with cancer are more likely to get COVID-19 and develop serious or even life-threatening symptoms when compared to the general population. For people with cancer, the mortality rate of COVID-19 is around 25-30%.

The same study goes on to explain that people with lung cancer face special challenges when it comes to COVID-19. Many factors which are common in people with lung cancer can make COVID-19 infections worse. These include:

  • lung damage from smoking
  • cardiovascular problems
  • being older

Scientists are unsure whether lung cancer itself worsens COVID-19.

One 2020 study suggests that factors such as the above have a greater impact on the severity of someone’s COVID-19 symptoms when compared to the lung cancer itself. The same goes for lung cancer medications and treatments. However, the authors acknowledge that more research is required, owing to the small sample size that they used in their study.

This evidence suggests that COVID-19 vaccines, if both safe and effective, could be crucial in preventing early deaths and severe complications in people with lung cancer.

Our understanding of COVID-19 and its vaccines continues to evolve. Nonetheless, existing evidence suggests that it is safe for many people with SCLC to receive COVID-19 vaccines.

As the National Cancer Institute (NCI) explains, there is no reason to believe that COVID-19 vaccines could make someone’s cancer treatment less effective.

Some might worry that receiving a COVID-19 vaccine could harm individuals on immunosuppressant medications, which certain people with cancer must take. This is an understandable concern. COVID-19 vaccines will nonetheless be safe for many people with SCLC.

As the American Cancer Society (ACS) explains, most COVID-19 vaccines do not contain a live version of the virus. These vaccines should not harm people on immunosuppressant medication. Non-live COVID-19 vaccines include:

  • the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine
  • the Moderna Vaccine
  • the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccine

Live COVID-19 vaccines may be harmful to people using immunosuppressant drugs. However, these vaccines are not currently available in the United States.

Not everyone is equally at risk from COVID-19. As the NCI notes, people with cancer are especially vulnerable to COVID-19.

This makes people with cancer a priority when it comes to allocating COVID-19 vaccines.

With so many COVID-19 vaccines in circulation, it is easy to wonder which is the most effective.

However, the ACS explains that, at present, there is no reliable scientific evidence comparing the effectiveness of different vaccines.

It is possible that some individuals with cancer could benefit from delaying their COVID-19 vaccine. For instance, the NCI suggests that people receiving certain forms of cancer therapy should delay their COVID-19 vaccine until at least 3 months after their treatment has ended.

These include:

The following are common side effects of many COVID-19 vaccines:

  • pain, swelling, or redness, around the injection site
  • tiredness
  • headaches
  • fever
  • muscle or joint pains
  • chills
  • nausea

There is currently no reliable scientific evidence showing whether these symptoms are better or worse in people with SCLC. However, side effects do not always occur and are more likely after a second vaccine dose.

People who are experiencing side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine can take steps to alleviate some of their symptoms. For example, people can try taking pain-relieving medications to help with headaches and body aches. However, they should talk with their doctor to make sure pain relievers are safe to take with SCLC medication.

Having a fever and pain can be very tiring. Being well-rested is very important, and especially so for people with SCLC. This is because around 30-60% of people with cancer experience fatigue during their treatment.

COVID-19 is a serious condition that can cause additional complications in people with SCLC. Thankfully, the vaccines that are available should be safe for most people with this form of cancer. Some people with SCLC, however, may benefit from delaying their vaccination.