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Why Are Women in Mexico Who Are Diagnosed With Breast Cancer Avoiding COVID-19 Vaccines?

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Some women diagnosed with breast cancer were reluctant to get a COVID-19 vaccine because they were afraid of side effects and didn’t trust their healthcare system, according to a Mexican study.

The research was published online on June 10, 2021, by the journal JAMA Oncology. Read “Attitudes and Factors Associated With COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy Among Patients With Breast Cancer.”

COVID-19 and breast cancer
About the study
What this means for you

COVID-19 and breast cancer

Research shows that people who are currently being treated for breast cancer and other cancers have a higher risk of developing severe illness if they are infected with COVID-19. Additionally, people who are receiving cancer treatment and are hospitalized for COVID-19 have a higher risk of dying than people with a history of cancer or people who have never been diagnosed with cancer, according to a recent study.

In the United States, the COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues, with people receiving one of the following:

  • the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine
  • the Moderna vaccine
  • the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine, also called the Janssen vaccine

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that these three vaccines are safe and highly effective for preventing not only COVID-19 but also serious illness and death from the disease.

There are no live viruses in any of these three vaccines, which means people with weakened immune systems — including people being treated for breast cancer and other cancers — may receive a COVID-19 vaccination.

It’s important to know that scientists don’t know yet how well COVID-19 vaccines work in people being treated for cancer. Because it’s not clear whether you are fully protected from COVID-19 during active cancer treatment, even if you are fully vaccinated, it’s a good idea to speak with your doctor to see if you need to continue taking precautions, including wearing well-fitted masks and social distancing.

Still, an Israeli study published in May 2021 found that 90% of people receiving systemic intravenous cancer treatment had an adequate immune response to the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

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About the study

In this study, the researchers wanted to know why women in Mexico diagnosed with breast cancer didn’t want to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

From March 12-26, 2021, women diagnosed with breast cancer who lived in Mexico were invited to complete an online survey through the social media channels of breast cancer organizations.

To figure out how many women were reluctant to get a COVID-19 vaccine, the researchers divided the women into two groups:

  • those who were willing to be vaccinated immediately
  • those who were hesitant to get vaccinated

In total, 619 women completed the survey. But 79 women had already been vaccinated, so they weren’t included in the analysis.

Of the remaining 540 women, whose average age was 49:

  • 357 (66%) were willing to be vaccinated immediately
  • 183 (34%) were hesitant to get vaccinated
  • 10 (2%) believed they would be injected with a computer chip so the government could spy on them
  • 6 (1%) believed COVID-19 vaccines caused infertility

Of the 357 women who were willing to get vaccinated immediately:

  • 301 (84%) wanted to avoiding being infected with COVID-19
  • 227 (64%) wanted to be able to take care of their relatives
  • 227 (64%) believed it was their social responsibility
  • 217 (61%) were afraid of getting seriously ill
  • 186 (52%) wanted to see things get back to normal

Some of the women who were willing to get vaccinated immediately still had concerns about the vaccine. Of these women:

  • 39 (10.9%) were afraid of side effects
  • 10 (2.8%) didn’t trust their healthcare system
  • 6 (1.7%) believed the COVID-19 vaccine was not recommended for people diagnosed with breast cancer
  • 8 (2.2%) said their doctor had not recommended they get vaccinated
  • 2 (0.6%) believed COVID-19 vaccines were not effective
  • 2 (0.6%) believed COVID-19 vaccines contained live virus capable of infecting them
  • 3 (0.8%) believed they didn’t need to be vaccinated because they’d already had COVID-19

Many of the women who were willing to get vaccinated shared why they were willing to get the vaccine. Of these women:

  • 127 (35.6%) would be motivated by their oncologists recommended the vaccine
  • 66 (18.5%) would be motivated if they had more information about the vaccine’s effectiveness
  • 69 (19.3%) would be motivated if they had more information about the vaccine’s safety
  • 29 (8.1%) would be motivated if a family member or friend got the vaccine and didn’t have side effects
  • 35 (9.8%) would be motivated if their primary care doctor recommended the vaccine
  • 17 (4.8%) would be motivated if the national authorities endorsed vaccination

Of the 183 women who were wary of the COVID-19 vaccine:

  • 142 (26%) wanted to wait and see how side effects would affect other people
  • 23 (4%) said they would only get vaccinated if it was mandatory
  • 18 (3%) said they would refuse to be vaccinated

Many of the women who were hesitant about getting vaccinated shared why they were hesitant about getting the vaccine. Of these women:

  • 100 (54.6%) were afraid of side effects
  • 37 (20.2%) didn’t trust their healthcare system
  • 23 (12.6%) believed the COVID-19 vaccine was not recommended for people diagnosed with breast cancer
  • 18 (9.8%) said their doctor had not recommended they get vaccinated
  • 17 (9.3%) believed COVID-19 vaccines were not effective
  • 14 (7.7%) believed COVID-19 vaccines contained live virus capable of infecting them
  • 3 (1.6%) believed they didn’t need to be vaccinated because they’d already had COVID-19

Many of the women who were hesitant about getting vaccinated said they were willing to reconsider. Of these women:

  • 118 (64.5%) would change their minds if their oncologists recommended the vaccine
  • 85 (46.4%) would change their minds if they had more information about the vaccine’s effectiveness
  • 78 (42.6%) would change their minds if they had more information about the vaccine’s safety
  • 61 (33.3%) would change their minds if a family member or friend got the vaccine and didn’t have side effects
  • 32 (17.5%) would change their minds if their primary care doctor recommended the vaccine
  • 6 (3.3%) would change their minds if the national authorities endorsed vaccination

The researchers also found that the women who were hesitant about getting vaccinated were more likely to:

  • not have any friends or family who were already vaccinated
  • not get their annual flu shots
  • be younger than 60 years old
  • have a high school education or lower
  • not have any friends or family who had died of COVID-19

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What this means for you

If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer and are wondering whether you should get a COVID-19 vaccine, it’s a good idea to speak with your doctor and other people on your medical team. Ask them any questions you have about the vaccines, including:

  • how they work
  • what the side effects are
  • the protection they offer
  • whether they affect fertility
  • how the vaccine may affect your unique treatment situation
  • anything else that you’ve heard about the vaccines that may worry you

You can also speak with your pharmacist, who can help answer any questions you have.

Weigh the answers you get from these trusted medical sources against the alternative — potentially becoming infected with COVID-19 — so you can make a more informed decision.

Having doubts about the COVID-19 vaccines is perfectly normal. After all, the coronavirus pandemic is unlike anything any of us have experienced in our lifetimes. But it’s important to speak with a medical expert you trust about those doubts so you can protect yourself and your loved ones, especially if you are receiving treatment for breast cancer.

It’s important to know that experts recommend most people who have been diagnosed with cancer or have a history of cancer should get a COVID-19 vaccine. Still, if you are being treated for breast cancer and have not yet received a COVID-19 vaccine, it makes sense to speak with your doctor and discuss when it’s safest for you to get vaccinated.

Learn more about COVID-19 Vaccine Facts for People With Breast Cancer.

Talk with others about COVID-19 and breast cancer by joining the Breastcancer.org Discussion Board forum All things COVID-19 or coronavirus.

Stayed tuned to Breastcancer.org Research News for the latest information on COVID-19 vaccines for people diagnosed with cancer.

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Written by: Vivian Lee, assistant editor

Reviewed by: Brian Wojciechowski, M.D., medical adviser


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