The deadliest COVID-19 wave for cancer patients

Though COVID-19 deaths among the general population were lower during the winter omicron surge compared to the preceding winter, the death rate for cancer patients was higher, according to a study published Aug. 31 in JAMA Oncology.

For the study, researchers at Boston-based Massachusetts General Hospital analyzed CDC data on 34,350 cancer patients and 628,156 members of the public who died during three periods of the pandemic in which different strains were predominant. 

The highest number of monthly deaths among cancer patients (5,958 deaths) occurred during winter 2021-22, when omicron was dominant. At the peak of omicron, there were 18 percent more cancer patient deaths than when the original strain peaked in winter 2020-21. In contrast, deaths among the public were highest during the first winter COVID-19 wave and 21 percent lower during the height of omicron. 

Researchers said the disparate burden of deaths among cancer patients during omicron likely can be explained by several factors, including reduced vaccine effectiveness in cancer patients and greater virus exposure due to the strain's transmissibility and relaxed public health policies. 

"Strategies to protect those at highest risk should remain a high priority, even during future pandemic waves with less virulent SARS-CoV-2 variants," researchers concluded.


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