States Must Include Patients with Cancer on COVID-19 Vaccine Priority List

Leading cancer advocacy organizations call on governors to follow established guidance from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

February 17, 2021

Washington, D.C.--In the midst of growing concerns that patients with cancer have limited access to the COVID-19 vaccines, the Association for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society, today issued a joint letter to every governor in the United States urging them to prioritize patients with cancer in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in accordance with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.

“People with a history of cancer are at a higher risk for contracting severe COVID-19 and more likely to have worse outcomes as a result of the disease,” said Monica M. Bertagnolli, MD, FACS, FASCO, Chair of the ASCO Board. “While we understand that vaccine supplies are limited, we’re calling on every governor to thoughtfully consider prioritizing individuals with cancer as states continue to manage their COVID-19 vaccine distribution plans.”

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) – the advisory body on vaccines that makes recommendations to the CDC – established guidelines in December 2020 outlining prioritization for COVID-19 vaccine distribution. Those nonbinding guidelines recommend patients with cancer be included in Phase 1 of the prioritization for distributing the COVID vaccine.  In December 2020, ASCO and the American Cancer Society requested that ACIP consider the evidence that demonstrates worse COVID-19 outcomes for people in active cancer treatment or with a history of cancer making that population more vulnerable to the virus and therefore warranting early vaccination.

Unfortunately, ASCO and ACS CAN have learned that some states have chosen not to use CDC guidelines in implementing their vaccine distribution plans, and some have indicated that patients with cancer will be moved to lower priority tiers. For example, Colorado has placed residents with only one high-risk condition in Phase 2, and Florida is prioritizing people aged 65 and older, while moving patients with high-risk medical conditions lower in priority.

“Patients across the country are telling us that they have grave concerns about being able to have timely access to vaccines,” said ACS CAN President Lisa Lacasse. “We urge every state governor to respect CDC’s guidelines and ensure that this immunocompromised patient population is on the priority list for vaccines.”

Data shows worse COVID-19 outcomes for people in active treatment for cancer, and mounting evidence suggests that individuals with any history of cancer are at a higher risk of severe disease and mortality compared to the general population.[i],[ii]

ASCO and ACS CAN also raised concerns that distribution of the vaccine has been uneven, leaving many eligible patients with cancer unable to receive a vaccine due to lack of access to a computer, transportation, or other critical resources. The two organizations urge states to ensure all vaccine distribution strategies and decisions are developed in a transparent and ethical way by public health professionals free from bias based on political or commercial interests. 

ASCO and ACS CAN also joined with more than 100 other cancer, scientific, and health care organizations in sending a letter today to President Biden underscoring the urgency of prioritizing access to a COVID-19 vaccine for patients with active cancer and survivors of cancer.

Read the joint letter to governors about prioritizing patients with cancer in vaccine distribution.

ASCO and ACS CAN will continue to work to ensure access to the vaccine for patients with cancer, and will provide patients with cancer and their cancer care teams current and regularly updated information about the virus and how it impacts people with cancer.


[i] Barek M, Aziz M, Islam M.  Impact of age, sex, comorbidities and clinical symptoms on the severity of COVID-19 cases: A meta-analysis with 55 studies and 10014 cases.  Heliyon. 2020; e05684.

[ii] Luo L, Fu M, Li Y, et al. The potential association between common comorbidities and severity and mortality of coronavirus disease 2019: A pooled analysis. Clin Cardiol. 2020;43:1478–1493.


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