Professor Graham Jackson shares his COVID-19 vaccine experience

Other News // 17th December 2020

When Professor Graham Jackson tweeted about his COVID-19 vaccination appointment last week, Myeloma UK asked if he would share his experience with the myeloma community. Here, he talks with our Senior Scientific Communications Officer, Caroline Donoghue, about getting the Pfizer-BioNTech injection and what the vaccine means for myeloma patients.

You had the first dose of your vaccine last week –what did you think when you received your invitation?

I was delighted to be offered the vaccine. I had no hesitation in accepting it and every single person in our hospital who’s a healthcare worker wants to be vaccinated. I’ve read the published clinical data and I’m very satisfied that the efficacy and safety data is excellent and outstanding. Over 20,000 people received the vaccine on the study and there were very little in the way of side effects. Most of these were minor and typical side effects you’d expect from any vaccine.

What was the experience of getting the vaccine like?

The experience was very good. Like other clinic visits or appointments, the hospital had all the right social distancing measures in place to ensure patients are safe. Face masks in the waiting room, limited people in the waiting room and no queues. I was vaccinated in separate room which was wiped down before and afterwards.

Before I got my vaccine, I went through a questionnaire and people were available to talk me about the vaccine and the vaccination process. Then I was vaccinated in my upper left arm. I’ve been side effect free since except for a slight bruise on my left upper arm, which is nothing to speak of and I have felt well since.

Would you encourage all myeloma patients to get the vaccine?

There is no reason why a myeloma patient shouldn’t go for vaccination if they are offered the vaccine. It is not a live vaccine. there is no virus involved in its manufacture, so you cannot catch COVID-19 from it.

Although myeloma patients might not respond as robustly as people who haven’t got myeloma, they will get some protection – and some protection is better than none.
The data from the trial not only shows a reduction in COVID-19 cases but also a reduction in the number of severe COVID-19 cases. So, the vaccine could help reduce a patient’s risk of severe infection.

I also believe that patients, carers, family members and healthcare professionals should all get it. The more people who have protection the better. If patients’ families are vaccinated too, then the patient is cocooned by people who have protection. Having health care workers vaccinated makes patients’ treatment and hospital visits safer. The more people who are vaccinated, the less this virus can circulate, and the less likely it is to get to our more vulnerable patients.

Is there anyone who won’t be suitable for the vaccine?

The vaccine might not be suitable for patients with severe allergies. There have been a couple of reports of people having allergic reactions to the vaccine. This is something that they will be asked about in their vaccination appointment.

I think also there will be patients who are undergoing intensive treatment who might not be suitable for the vaccine purely because it won’t work for them, especially if they are heavily immunosuppressed. It’s better to wait until they are likely to better respond. This may include some myeloma patients, for example, patients within the first six to eight weeks following high-dose therapy and stem cell transplantation. However, I would see the COVID-19 vaccine fitting along with their post-HDT-SCT vaccination schedule. Patients who are concerned about their suitability should talk to their clinical team when they get their vaccination letter.

Will life go back to normal after getting the vaccine?

First of all, the vaccine works best if you have two shots three weeks apart so it’s important to mention that you have to have that second dose and wait a week until after the second dose before you’re maximally protected.

Vaccination doesn’t give anyone a carte blanche to go out and go partying or clubbing. People will still have to be careful as no vaccine is 100% effective. Observing social distancing, masking, and washing hands remains important and will remain important for a while yet.

To be honest, because non-COVID-19 chest infection rates have been much lower this year, I would probably recommend that many of the good hygiene and social distancing measures continue for good. They don’t just protect you from COVID-19, but from lots of other respiratory tract infections which are a problem for myeloma patients.

What would you say to patients who are concerned about the vaccine?

Don’t listen to misinformation. Don’t look for answers from your neighbour or randomly searching the internet. Go to a trusted source. Myeloma UK is great for general enquires and for something specific you can talk to your own haematologist or clinical nurse specialist. We are keeping up to date with information about the vaccine.

Professor Graham Jackson is a consultant haematologist at the Freeman Hospital, Newcastle.

This interview took place before the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine was approved and focuses on Professor Graham Jackson’s experience with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. However, he’s since been in touch with the following additional comment:

“It is great news that the UK have approved the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine. Both approved vaccines are safe for all and myeloma patients. Patients with a significant history of allergies should make sure the vaccination team of their allergy history. The vaccines have not been tested in pregnant patients or in the under-16s. You should discuss the timing of vaccination with respect to your treatment with your myeloma team. In patients who have a recent autologous stem cell transplant the vaccine may not be as effective within the first 100 days of the transplant. It is also worth remembering that patients who are vaccinating may still be able to transmit the virus and may still contract COVID-19 but it in this unlikely event it is much less likely the patient will get severe COVID-19 infection. Certainly vaccinated patients should continue to observe social distancing, wash hands frequently and wear a mask when outside of the house and treat everyone they meet as if they had COVID-19.”