By Dr. Max Gomez

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Most medical groups recommend cancer patients and survivors get the COVID-19 vaccine, but the unknown is how effective the shot is for this large group of people.

As CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez reports, researchers in Ohio are launching a study to find out just how protected cancer patients are with a COVID vaccine.

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Dave Hill knows about quarantining. Even before the pandemic, the 63-year-old had to isolate after receiving intense chemotherapy and then a stem cell transplant for lymphoma.

“I’ve been doing this since mid-2018. And I said, so if you think your stir crazy, you should be in my shoes,” he said.

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

The stakes got even higher when COVID hit.

“There was an extremely high anxiety about any kind of infection,” Hill said. “I just had to continue to be very diligent.”

Cancer treatment can affect the immune system, which can leave patients susceptible to infections. Experts recommend most cancer patients and survivors receive the COVID-19 vaccine, but there are some unknowns.

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“There are some patients where we’re not measuring as good an antibody response as what we would like to see, however, we have no idea whether or not that’s still sufficiently protective. So there may very well be a subset of patients who need to get boosters more often. This is what we’re trying to figure out,” said Dr. Peter Shields, with James Cancer Center.

Shields is leading a study at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, enrolling vaccinated patients with and without cancer. Participants provide weekly saliva samples to test for COVID and blood samples to measure immune response.

“I hope it protects me, and I hope it protects everybody else,” Hill said.

COVID VACCINE

Hill is taking part in the research.

“This is one thing that came in that allowed me to participate and pay back to those people who helped me and who are helping others,” he said.

The present COVID vaccines are considered safe for all cancer patients, but it’s important to know which cancers and which treatments prevent the immune system from responding to a COVID vaccine so that those patients can continue to take precautions against the coronavirus.

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There are more than 17 million cancer survivors in the United States.

Dr. Max Gomez