Study tracks effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines in cancer patients

Dr Yada Kanjanapan
29 October 2021

A new study led by researchers at The Australian National University (ANU) and The Canberra Hospital will investigate the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines in cancer patients.  

ANU Medical School Clinical Senior Lecturer and Medical Oncologist at The Canberra Hospital, Dr Yada Kanjanapan, says cancer patients are at higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19 infection. 

The study will determine how strong and long-lasting the immune response to COVID-19 is after vaccination in cancer patients and whether it is affected by different types of cancer treatment.  

“The knowledge gained from this study will be an important part of protecting this vulnerable population during the pandemic,” Dr Kanjanapan said. 

“It could help inform future vaccination programs, including the design of booster vaccine programs for immunocompromised patients.” 

The study will also investigate the risk of developing blood clots for people immunised with the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, by examining how many of them have antibodies against platelet factor 4 (PF4). Platelets form clots in our blood to prevent bleeding. 

Pathological forms of the PF4 antibodies are thought to cause the rare potential complication of the vaccine, immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT). 

“Thrombosis occurs when blood clots block veins and arteries, and has the potential to be fatal,” co-investigator Professor Elizabeth Gardiner, from the ANU John Curtin School of Medical Research, said.  

“However, we believe the prevalence of these antibodies might be more common even without VITT.” 

Researchers from ANU have published a method for measuring these antibodies, which will be used in the study.  

“The study will seek 100 healthy volunteers, as well as 200 people with cancer currently receiving treatment, who are willing to have blood samples collected for the antibody test,” co-investigator Associate Professor Aude Fahrer, from the ANU Research School of Biology, said.  

“Those who have received a COVID-19 vaccine, whether it be AstraZeneca, Pfizer or Moderna, in the previous three months, or those about to be vaccinated are welcome to participate.  

"The nature of the study design means we will not be able to inform participants of their individual antibody test result however our collective findings will be published in a scientific journal.” 

For more information about participating in the study please contact: chs.everest@act.gov.au 

The study is funded by The Canberra Hospital Private Practice Fund, Radiation Oncology Private Practice Fund and the John James Foundation.