As talk of COVID-19 vaccines began, Rosanne Ting-Mak Brown was ready to wait her turn.
But an unexpected breast cancer diagnosis and immunocompromising chemotherapy changed her mind.
Now, the West Kelowna resident is asking for the interval between the first and second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to be shortened for clinically vulnerable people, such as herself.
Brown is the owner of RedScope Media, an events business with a hand in several Okanagan events over the last few years.
Due to the pandemic, Brown had to pivot her business.
She showed that same resilience when it came to her health; she followed public health orders and prepared to wait for her turn to get the vaccine.
In the fall of 2020, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, undergoing surgery right before Christmas to treat it. Even then, she waited.
But as she began chemotherapy, her lowered immune system started to worry her. She looked into getting at least the first dose of the vaccine for herself and her husband, her primary caregiver.
“When I first looked into it, I wasn’t even eligible to register to book an appointment,” she said.
“It was very frustrating because I’m clinically vulnerable.”
Two and a half weeks ago, she finally received her first dose, but her husband hasn’t even been able to book a time for an appointment. Now, she’s asking the provincial government to move up the distribution of second doses for people in a similar position like hers and give her husband a chance at a first dose.
“There’s a concern because as a regular person gets the vaccine, after 14 days, you are 90 per cent protected and the booster ensures that you stay protected,” she said.
“Unfortunately, if you’re going through chemotherapy…you don’t reach that 90 per cent.”
Brown cited a not-yet peer-reviewed study out of the U.K. which suggests delaying the booster shot for patients undergoing chemotherapy leaves them lacking in protection compared to people in the same age cohort who aren’t receiving chemotherapy or don’t have cancer.
“There aren’t a lot of studies because we’ve only been vaccinating for four months, but some studies out there do say cancer patients are around the 39-49 per cent mark until they get their second dose, which boosts them up to 90 per cent.”
During her briefing on Monday (April 26), provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said fast-tracking second doses for cancer patients is not the answer.
Instead, the province is opting to have as many people as possible get their first dose to ensure more people are protected.
“We don’t yet know if it makes a difference for somebody to receive that second dose at 21 days or 28 days or at six months or four months or three months,” she said.
“The best protection for everybody is for more people to be immunized to have that higher level of protection from the single-dose and reduce the risk in our communities…so we are sticking with our four, likely to be less than four months, given the rate that we are going right now in terms of immunization.”
For her part, Brown said she’s keeping positive. As scientists keep learning about the virus, restrictions and timelines can change, she said. Brown said the answer might be no today, but it could be yes tomorrow.
“I implore the B.C. government and public health to allow us cancer patients here to receive the (second dose of the) vaccine as well,” she said.
“We’re clinically vulnerable, so we’re at a higher risk. This is a big underlying condition. If I was to get COVID, there’s a huge risk to my health.”