Mar 23, 2021 9:00 AM

Read Time: 3 minutes

Author: Ashlee Harrison

Image: Neeraj Agarwal, MD
Neeraj Agarwal, MD

An international group of cancer clinical research experts reported new recommendations that receiving a COVID-19 vaccination should not preclude a cancer patient from participating on a clinical trial. Huntsman Cancer Institute physician-scientist and professor of internal medicine at the University of Utah, Neeraj Agarwal, MD, was part of this newly formed group who reviewed the data and provided recommendations to patients, doctors, research centers, and the pharmaceutical research industry on this critical, emerging issue.

For many cancer patients, clinical trials are an integral part of their care. Clinical trials test the safety and effectiveness of new drugs and treatments. Nearly all cancer treatments in use today began as a clinical trial. Participating in a clinical trial requires strict monitoring of how and when the drug is given and any side effects. There are also restrictions on other medications a patient may receive, as they could impact the results of the drug being studied. For these reasons, extensive plans are made at the start of a clinical trial to outline which patients may participate in the study. 

Many cancer patients are now eligible for COVID-19 vaccination. Experts recommend cancer patients be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccination and encourage people with cancer to get the vaccine as soon as it is available to them. Yet the availability of the vaccine presented an urgent, new consideration for cancer patients who also wish to participate in clinical trials: whether receiving a COVID-19 vaccination might make them ineligible for certain clinical trials, or even jeopardize their ongoing treatment provided through a clinical trial.

Last week, the recommendations of this group were published in Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology. Led by Vivek Subbiah, MD, of MD Anderson Cancer Center, the group reviewed data and determined receiving the COVID-19 vaccination should not preclude the ability of a person to participate in a cancer clinical trial.

“Being on a clinical trial should not be a roadblock for our patients from receiving COVID vaccine. Unfortunately, there was no clear policy or guidance, which frequently resulted in delaying the receipt of the COVID-19 vaccine by cancer patients. This international working group of renowned investigators published these consensus guidelines to address this critical issue,” said Agarwal.

The findings are expected to be used to update guidelines for cancer clinical trials and to help inform research centers, hospitals, and the pharmaceutical industry.

For more information about clinical trials at Huntsman Cancer Institute, visit

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About Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah

Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah is the official cancer center of Utah and the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in the Mountain West. The campus includes a state-of-the-art cancer specialty hospital and two buildings dedicated to cancer research. Huntsman Cancer Institute provides patient care, cancer screening, and education at community clinics and affiliate hospitals throughout the Mountain West. It is consistently recognized among the best cancer hospitals in the country by U.S. News and World Report. The region’s first proton therapy center opened in 2021 and a major hospital expansion is underway. Huntsman Cancer Institute is committed to creating a diverse and inclusive environment for staff, students, patients, and communities. Advancing cancer research discoveries and treatments to meet the needs of patients who live far away from a major medical center is a unique focus. More genes for inherited cancers have been discovered at Huntsman Cancer Institute than at any other cancer center, including genes responsible for breast, ovarian, colon, head and neck cancers, and melanoma. Huntsman Cancer Institute was founded by Jon M. and Karen Huntsman.

Cancer touches all of us.

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