Herd immunity needed to protect those who can't get vaccinated for medical reasons, doctor says

Dr. Julie Stakiw says herd immunity is needed for people like Mars Fox-Reid, a cancer patient in Saskatoon who just finished her chemotherapy and won't be able to get vaccinated for weeks.

Saskatoon cancer patient urges everyone to get vaccinated to help keep people like her safe

Many cancer patients have had to delay getting a COVID-19 vaccination because of their cancer treatments. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Saskatoon's Mars Fox-Reid will have to put off getting her first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine for another month.

"If I could have lined up as the first person [to get the vaccine], I would have been there," said Fox-Reid.

But as a cancer patient who just finished her chemotherapy a few days ago, she's been advised by her doctor to wait at least four weeks before getting her first shot. 

Because of treatment plans, many cancer patients are in the same predicament.

Fox-Reid said because she is immunocompromised and also unable to get a vaccine right now, she is always in fear when she has to venture out in public.

"I don't know who has had their vaccines, who hasn't," she said.

"Going into a store now, I find it very scary. People are going against the [direction] arrows in the grocery store and they're not keeping … a distance sometimes. So I don't do much out in the real world."

Dr. Julie Stakiw says herd immunity will help keep her cancer patients safer while they wait to get vaccinated. (Vincent Thian/The Associated Press)

Dr. Julie Stakiw said Fox-Reid's dilemma is something she hears from many of her patients.

Stakiw is a hematologist-oncologist, medical director of the Saskatoon Cancer Clinic, and a member of the Saskatchewan Health Authority's immunization advisory committee.

"There isn't anybody who can't get the vaccine, it's just for our patients it's about timing," Stakiw said.

"Sometimes we get patients to wait until their immune system builds back up because you need that immune system to respond to the vaccine."

Stakiw said that's why it is so important to get enough people vaccinated to develop herd immunity — the point at which most of the population is immune to COVID-19.

That also gives indirect protection to those who are not immune to the disease.

"For my patient population and all of the immunocompromised patients who might not have the ability to have a complete response to the vaccine, it's exquisitely important," Stakiw said.

"To protect our patients, our immunocompromised patients, everybody needs to get vaccinated and do their part so we can protect each other as a society."

Stakiw said until that happens, those who want to get immunized but can't yet need to rely on others to get vaccinated.

"Certainly come July 11 [when virtually all restrictions are to be lifted in Saskatchewan], they're not going to be taking off their masks. They're not going to be going and having big gatherings in public," Stakiw said.

Fox-Reid said even when she gets vaccinated, she'll still have to be careful, since vaccines may be less effective for people who are immunocompromised.

"I really appreciate the fact that people are getting immunized," she said. "I just wish everybody else would. Herd immunity would make the world of difference to my life."

With files from Saskatoon Morning