Influenza vaccine effective for patients with cancer

A recent study used data compiled by ICES between 2010 and 2016 from across Ontario to evaluate seasonal influenza vaccine effectiveness among patients diagnosed with cancer.

Overall, the study found vaccine effectiveness to be 21 per cent against laboratory-confirmed influenza across all cancer patients.

Patients with cancer are at high risk for morbidity and mortality from seasonal influenza. While previous research has provided some evidence that influenza vaccination may benefit patients with cancer, physicians and researchers have remained largely uncertain about its effectiveness in this specific population. Studies examining larger populations were needed.

Dr. Phillip Blanchette, Lawson Scientist, Medical Oncologist at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) and Assistant Professor at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, was the first author of the study which examined health system data of over 26,000 patients with cancer who were tested for influenza.

“We studied a very large population, so we are confident in our results. They confirm that seasonal influenza vaccination is effective for people with cancer. This is really positive because influenza can cause severe complications for those already battling cancer,” explains Dr. Blanchette.

“Vaccine effectiveness in the study population was less than what we see in the general population, which is what we expect since having cancer and going through treatment weakens the immune system. Vaccine effectiveness was not impacted by chemotherapy use but was lower for patients with blood-based cancers.”

Dr. Blanchette adds, “it is also extremely important that health care providers, close friends and immediate family members be vaccinated to help protect cancer patients.”

The results support current guidelines for vaccinating patients with cancer against seasonal influenza. “Vaccination guidelines are based on good science. It is important that as researchers and physicians, we communicate our recommendations effectively, and that the public is aware of the benefits of seasonal influenza vaccination,” says Dr. Blanchette.

The study, “Influenza vaccine effectiveness among patients with cancer: A population-based study using health administrative and laboratory testing data from Ontario, Canada,” is published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.