New Zealand is preparing to go into lockdown tonight at 11.59pm after Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, announced she was raising the alert level and imposing a one-month country wide shut down. Everyone, except those providing essential services must stay at home. The provision of cancer services is considered by the Government to be an essential service.
So what does this mean for cancer patients?
Dr Chris Jackson, Medical Director of the Cancer Society of NZ said no one has immunity to COVID-19. Cancer patients in particular are more at risk as well as those on immune-suppressing drugs were more susceptible to infection.
"The Dr's and nurses and cancer agencies have been planning carefully for this and working very hard. I have never ever seen the health system work so quickly and in such a co-ordinated way as it has in response to this pandemic," Jackson said.
On a Facebook live video a few days ago he advised cancer patients must;
- Keep on with treatment, don't stop. Your oncologist can talk to you about your specific treatment.
- Keep taking your immune-suppressing drugs.
- Cancer patients or those with low immune systems must stay indoors as much as they can, but keep at least 2 metres away from others and practise social distancing, (If you have to venture outside to your medical appointments, even if the one-month lockdown is relaxed).
- Consultations with Dr's will be moving online with video and teleconferencing. Some face to face meetings may still be required.
- Keep washing your hands.
- If you are unwell please contact your cancer treatment team to let them know. If you are sick, hospital is still the safest place for you but please phone ahead first.
Should cancer patients get the flu vaccination?
Dr Chris Jackson says data suggests having the flu vaccine for most patients can help avoid complications to COVID-19. Cancer patients should receive priority and at a reduced cost.
Flu vaccinations are funded for over 65-year-olds and anyone with a chronic condition that increases risk of flu ie asthma.
DHB's have been advising patients to get a flu shot and advise having it done prior to future treatment if possible.
For those on treatment, as close to their chemo day as possible would be best as this is when their blood counts are likely to be at their best. Patients should talk to their oncologist first.
It is also recommended that the rest of the household have a flu vaccination but they would need to pay for it unless they meet the above criteria.
The website FightFlu.co.nz has an updated list for 2020 of pharmacies around the country that offer flu vaccines. Please ring ahead to see if they can help you during the lockdown.
To find a pharmacy that vaccinates in your area click here
COVID-19 Symptoms include:
- difficulty breathing
Difficulty breathing is a sign of possible pneumonia and requires immediate medical attention.
If you have been in close contact with someone with confirmed coronavirus, call Healthline (for free) on 0800 358 5453 or +64 9 358 5453 for international SIMS.
Future cancer treatments
Bowel Cancer Foundation Trust has been advised that most cancer treatments should still be continuing as normal. Your treatment centre should be contacting you to talk to you about your continued treatment.
We have also been told by bowel cancer patients that oncology appointments have already started to be pushed back as we move in to lockdown phase. Please contact your surgeon, oncologist to work out a plan B if this happens.
A bowel cancer surgeon we spoke to said patients should expect some cancer surgeries and treatments will have to be put on hold if the pandemic cannot be contained because people are not adhering to social distancing rules. They are preparing to be pulled towards a more 'front line' role where they will be expected to help treat COVID-19 patients instead.
So please adhere to social distancing rules to help protect those more vulnerable in society. Be kind and helpful to those who are struggling. We are all in this together.
A huge thank you to all those medical staff on the front line, putting themselves at risk to help us. Please help protect them by staying at home.
For more information:
If you have any questions about COVID-19 and cancer, please call the cancer information helpline on 0800 226 237.
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