COVID-19 Vaccines and Innovative Oncology Services for Patients with Urothelial Carcinoma Have Expanded During the Pandemic

COVID-19 vaccine is safe — and more than a little advisable — for people with urothelial cancer, says a clinical pharmacist at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System.

Adults of any age with cancer are at an increased risk of suffering a severe case of COVID-19, so vaccination is especially important in this population. In an interview, Jenna Shields, Pharm.D., BCOP, Clinical Pharmacy Specialist, Hematology/Oncology, Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Healthcare System (VAPHS), discusses COVID-19 vaccines in urothelial carcinoma patients and what to anticipate for the rest of this year for oncology services.

Have patients with urothelial carcinoma had the opportunity to receive COVID-19 vaccines?

There have been no restrictions for bladder cancer patients receiving COVID-19 vaccinations at VAPHS. The healthcare system was very fortunate to have ample supply of COVID-19 vaccines early on, and mass vaccination began mid-January. I encouraged all of our patients on chemotherapy and immunotherapy to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Patients on active chemotherapy were told not to delay vaccination despite some chemotherapy regimens for bladder cancer resulting in neutropenia.

What are your top counseling points to encourage COVID-19 vaccination?

I specifically stress that they cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccine and make sure to review what the expected side effects are and that it is safe if you have cancer and are receiving treatment. Additionally, I talk to patients about the benefits of vaccination for their family, community and even for us as healthcare providers.

What are examples of your clinical interventions during the pandemic?

Throughout the pandemic we were challenged to find new ways to manage and treat cancer patients while decreasing their contact with the healthcare system. Early in the pandemic, we looked for ways to extend dosing intervals, convert treatments to oral agents, and considered delaying nonessential treatments. Most of our intravenous treatments continued without interruption. We now conduct our oral anticancer therapy clinic as a hybrid between telehealth and face-to-face visits.

What do you changes do you anticipate happening this year at your clinical practice site?

As we move into 2021, we continue to expand our services through telemedicine.During the pandemic, we expanded to a second remote infusion site and are in early talks of expansion to a third site. By opening these remote infusion centers, we can save hours of travel time for our patients and still provide the same level of care.