Florida Surgeon General’s clash raises concerns about COVID in cancer patients

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Cancer patients are immunocompromised, making them more susceptible to serious complications, such as prolonged hospital stays and even death if they contract COVID-19, experts say.

That’s why Democratic lawmakers, health officials and others have criticized Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, who last week refused to wear a mask around a state senator who has been assigned to diagnosed with breast cancer.

According to Democratic State Senator Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, Ladapo and two assistants arrived at his office in Tallahassee on October 20. Ladapo had requested a meeting to discuss his confirmation in the Senate after Governor Ron DeSantis appointed him surgeon general in late September. .

Polsky told The Associated Press that Ladapo and two assistants were offered masks and asked to wear them when they entered his office. She said she didn’t tell Ladapo she had breast cancer – which she has since made public – but has serious illness. Ladapo refused to wear a mask, she said, and offered to sit outside instead.

Ladapo’s reasoning: It wouldn’t have been productive.

“Having a conversation with someone while wearing a mask is not something I find productive, especially when other options exist,” Ladapo wrote in a statement on his Twitter feed Tuesday. “It is important for me to communicate effectively with people. I cannot do this when half of my face is covered.”

Previous coverage:Florida Surgeon General Ladapo Says He Cannot “Communicate Effectively” In Refusing To Wear A Mask In Polsky’s Office

Related:Under fire, Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo says he cannot communicate clearly when masked

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“Are you kidding me?” Dr Paul Pitel, a retired pediatric oncologist from Jacksonville, said Tuesday in response to Ladapo’s actions.

Pitel and other oncology doctors recommend that people with cancer wear a mask in public when they are around people who are not in their immediate household, as they are at a much higher risk of seriously falling. sick because of the virus. He also said vaccines are not as effective for those with already compromised immune systems.

“There would be nothing improper about wearing a mask in public. It would be extremely reasonable and appropriate,” Pitel said. “If you are at home with your family and know that they are vaccinated, that is a whole other thing.”

Ladapo said he offered to find another solution that would meet both of their preferences, even sitting at his desk in the hallway, but she declined.

Polsky said Ladapo’s refusal to wear a mask in his office had stunned him.

“It was so shocking to me that he treated me that way,” Polsky told the AP. “If he is a general surgeon for the next few years, I am truly concerned about a future public health emergency and cannot count on him for the necessary advice and appropriate scientific leadership.”

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Protocols for cancer patients

Even before COVID-19, people with cancer had to keep their distance from sick people, according to Pitel, who added that it was just common sense.

In fact, hospital staff who are not vaccinated against the flu are required to wear a mask at all times around cancer patients, Pitel said. Most healthcare entities require staff to get flu shots, he said, though there are some exemptions like religion and vaccine allergies.

“If you work in an oncology department, there was no way you were allowed to be there without a mask,” Pitel said. “So, coming back to a simple flu, this (what Ladapo did) was totally inappropriate behavior under these circumstances.”

Since COVID-19, everyone has been required to wear a mask in hospitals and healthcare facilities, regardless of COVID-19 vaccination status, Pitel said.

“You are absolutely required to wear a mask in the building at all times, end of the conversation,” he said.

Vaccines against cancer and COVID-19

People with blood cancers may be at a higher risk of prolonged infection and death from COVID-19 than people with solid tumors, according to the National Cancer Institute. This is because patients with blood cancers often have abnormal or depleted levels of immune cells that produce antibodies against viruses.

However, Pitel said COVID-19 affects everyone differently. Since people cannot be sure how the virus will affect them, he said all people with cancer should be vaccinated if their doctor approves it.

Which echoes recommendations from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that all people 12 and older receive a COVID-19 vaccine, including those with underlying health conditions such as cancer.

However, cancer patients who are in the midst of treatment that suppresses the immune system – such as chemotherapy, cell therapy, stem cell or bone marrow transplants – should see their doctor first, according to the National Cancer Institute. .

“Your doctor may suggest that you wait until your immune system has recovered before getting vaccinated,” the institute’s website says. “Or your doctor may suggest that you wait a few weeks after vaccination to get immunosuppressive therapy.”

Booster doses are also recommended.

To help protect people with cancer, the National Cancer Institute recommends that caregivers, loved ones and family members receive one of three available COVID-19 vaccines.

Negative impacts of COVID-19 in cancer patients

In addition to being more susceptible to serious complications and death from COVID-19, cancer patients who contract the virus will most likely have to stop cancer treatment when they are ill, according to Pital.

“You can’t talk about all the circumstances, about all the patients, but in general, when a person is actively ill, you have to stop therapy until they are better,” he said. .

While stopping treatment for a few days is unlikely to cause any problems, if a patient is hospitalized with severe COVID-19 illness, their cancer treatment will be further extended.

“If it becomes a much more prolonged case of COVID and they get really sick and potentially on a ventilator, you can’t give them chemotherapy in that situation. “

Lack of treatment such as chemotherapy can make the cancer progress.

“It’s definitely not something we want, but it’s all a risk-benefit analysis,” Pitel said.

CA Bridges, digital producer for the USA TODAY network, contributed to this report


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