How new, groundbreaking COVID-19 vaccines will impact cancer care

A local cancer researcher says the recent COVID-19 vaccine trials will likely impact cancer treatments.

SAN ANTONIO – When Pfizer and Moderna announced they were nearing the end of their COVID-19 vaccine trials, some cancer research experts were astounded at how fast the trials went and type of vaccine that was developed for FDA approval.

Instead of decades, it took merely months for the two companies to get to that point.

According to Dr. Amita Patnaik, clinical researcher for the START Center for Cancer Care, the effectiveness of the vaccines is beyond what an annual flu shot can produce.

“In order to garner FDA approval, the vaccine makers knew that they were aiming for an effectiveness of at least 50%. But to get a rate of 90 to 95%, I think, really is unexpected,” Patnaik said.

Her optimism is boosted as well about the type of vaccine that was developed for the coronavirus. They are called mRNA vaccines, which is a category of treatment that is currently being investigated at the Start Center.

“One of the hallmarks of cancer is the ability of cancers to evade the immune system and to essentially hijack the immune system. So, by giving the vaccine, the hope is that we can get the immune system to recognize those parts of the cancer that may be able to elicit a response that can actually attack the cancer cells,” Patnaik said.

Getting the immune system to tune in where to fire up will allow the T cells set loose to attack the infection, virus, or cancer, but to leave the healthy cells alone.

START is looking at two of these mRNA vaccines for cancer, but seeing the preliminary success of the new coronavirus gives huge hope for the future of cancer care.

If the Pfizer and Moderna COVID -19 vaccines get approved for emergency use by the FDA, Patnaik said they will be the first of their type to get the government okay.

About the Author:

Ursula Pari has been a staple of television news in Texas at KSAT 12 News since 1996 and a veteran of broadcast journalism for more than 30 years.