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In this MD Newsline exclusive interview with oncologist Dr. Onyemaechi Okolo, we discuss cancer management challenges and disparities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

MD Newsline:

What are the biggest challenges that oncologists are tasked with in the wake of COVID-19?

Dr. Onyemaechi Okolo:

“One of the biggest challenges now is the generation of an immune response in our patient population. Unfortunately, we’re seeing that some patients with cancer that receive certain treatments don’t generate adequate antibodies following vaccination against COVID-19.

So, this means that despite our patients making an effort to go and get vaccinated, some are still going to remain at risk. So we really need to figure out how to better protect them.”


MD Newsline:

Do you think cancer disparities have worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Dr. Onyemaechi Okolo:

“I’m not sure. I don’t know the data, but I can postulate that cancer disparities have likely worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 further heightened the dysfunction in our healthcare system, and the fear of contracting the virus likely lead to more people postponing their usual health screenings and doctor visits.

Also, we learned that many essential workers are minorities—people working in your shops, doing your food deliveries, cleaning up the hospital. With them being on the front line, their risk of contracting the virus is relatively higher. And then you add on the other factor that many minorities don’t always have the option of working from home.

So, I think part of the disparities that we saw in deaths due to COVID-19 stems from our societal structure of who is on the front line and also stems from underlying comorbidities because of a lack of access to care. So, when you add cancer to the mix, I can imagine it doesn’t make health disparities any better and, in fact, worsens cancer disparities.”

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Responses have been condensed and lightly edited.

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