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Pediatric cancer survivors merit vaccination priority | READER COMMENTARY

Kaitlyn Dorman, 17, had a serious brain tumor at age 11 and has since recovered following a clinical trial. Kaitlyn talks with Dr. Eric Raabe about the tumor and the trial in a lab at Johns Hopkins Hospital. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun).
Kaitlyn Dorman, 17, had a serious brain tumor at age 11 and has since recovered following a clinical trial. Kaitlyn talks with Dr. Eric Raabe about the tumor and the trial in a lab at Johns Hopkins Hospital. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun). (Jerry Jackson / The Baltimore Sun)

Four years ago, I was told I had cancer. I was 15 years old and a high school freshman. I was diagnosed with Stage II Hodgkin Lymphoma. I was treated at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore with 4-to-21-day cycles of five different chemotherapy agents, steroids and 16 days of radiation. Three months after my treatment ended, I relapsed and had to endure two more rounds of chemotherapy and immunotherapy to get into remission, and another two rounds to keep me in remission and then six days of high dose chemotherapy in the hospital which wiped out my immune system and I was rescued with a stem cell transplant.

I then had to endure 14 more rounds of chemotherapy and immunotherapy. I am in remission now but have a number of late term effects from the treatment including cardiomyopathy and compromised lungs and strain on my heart. I also have developed postural tachycardia syndrome and have significant peripheral neuropathy. I am considered high risk for complications from COVID-19. I live in Maryland and I have not been able to get a COVID vaccine because my state has done such a poor job with the rollout and has not put any priority on pediatric cancer survivors. I have fought for my life two times and I am only 19 years old (”On coronavirus vaccines, Maryland makes West Virginia look good as pace still lags most states, analysis finds,” Jan. 28).

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Many pediatric cancer survivors with weakened immune systems have spent the past year burdened by the constant worry about the coronavirus. With COVID-19 vaccinations in high demand and short supply, I write to urge our public health experts and decision makers to consider the overlooked population of cancer survivors when making critical decisions about vaccine priority groups.

Cancer patients in active treatment are being considered for priority vaccination in many parts of the country, but what about survivors? The health of many survivors remains incredibly fragile long after treatment ends. Among survivors of childhood cancers, for example, 95% suffer from long-term side effects as a result of their disease or treatment, according to the childhood cancer advocacy group Children’s Cancer Cause. These late effects are often chronic, sometimes life-threatening, and can include cardiac problems and lung damage which puts these survivors at high risk of poor outcomes if they contract COVID-19.

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Public health recommendations must prioritize safeguarding the most vulnerable among us. Cancer survivors should be considered high on that list.

Meaghan Kilner, Potomac

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