COVID-19 is a significant threat to the health of everyone, particularly people with cancer. Studies have shown that people with cancer have higher risk than the general population of being hospitalized, developing a critical illness from COVID-19, and of dying from COVID-19. To protect themselves, people with cancer should reduce their risk of exposure to the virus, accept a vaccine when it becomes available, and encourage those they come in contact with to get vaccinated too.
Here are some frequently asked questions related to the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine for patients undergoing treatment for cancer.
- When will the vaccine be available to oncology patients?
- Is it safe to get a COVID-19 vaccine if I have a weakened immune system?
- Will the COVID-19 Vaccine interact with any of my chemotherapy drugs?
- Should I wait to get the vaccine or delay the start of my chemotherapy?
- If I have already started a chemotherapy cycle or other cancer treatment plan, when should I get the COVID-19 vaccine?
- Is it safe to receive the vaccine during radiation therapy or immunotherapy, after surgery or while I am taking oral medication for cancer?
- Does the COVID-19 vaccine interfere with mammogram screenings?
- Are there any stages of specific types of cancer when it is not a good choice to have a vaccine?
- Does cancer or cancer treatment make the COVID-19 vaccine less effective?
- Should my family members and caregivers get vaccinated?
- Can my providers at the Cancer Center administer my COVID-19 vaccine?
- What is the difference between a third dose and a booster shot? Should I receive one or the other?
The COVID-19 vaccine is now available to all patients 5 years of age and older.
Because cancer patients were not included in Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Janssen COVID-19 vaccine trials, there is no data yet as to the safety and effectiveness of these vaccines specifically in people with cancer. This does not mean that people with cancer should not get vaccinated. There is a significant amount of information about safety and effectiveness of other vaccines, such as the flu vaccination, in people with cancer that we use to inform recommendations for the COVID-19 vaccine.
There are no concerns about the safety of the vaccine in people with cancer who have weakened immune systems from a variety of cancer treatments.
Questions about vaccination safety have been brought up for patients receiving immune checkpoint inhibitor treatment with drugs such as Keytruda, Opdivo, Yervoy, Bavencio, Tecentriq, etc. We know from multiple recent studies that the influenza vaccine is safe for people on immune checkpoint inhibitors and there does not appear to be an increased risk of developing an inflammatory immune reaction.
If you may benefit from an immune checkpoint inhibitor, you should continue it. You should not delay a COVID-19 vaccination because you are taking an immune checkpoint inhibitor. If you are not sure if the treatment you are receiving is an immune checkpoint inhibitor, you can ask your oncologist.
Given the recently published data and the high risk of complications from COVID-19 in people with cancer, it is not recommended to delay either vaccination or the start of chemotherapy.
If I have already started a chemotherapy cycle or other cancer treatment plan, when should I get the COVID-19 vaccine?
The most effective time to immunize within the chemotherapy cycle is at about day 4 or 5 of the cycle.
If you are having a stem cell transplant or you are receiving CAR T-cell therapy, you should ask your hematologist about the appropriate timing for vaccination.
Is it safe to receive the vaccine during radiation therapy or immunotherapy, after surgery or while I am taking oral medication for cancer?
There is no data to suggest that any other treatments such as chemotherapy, surgery, targeted therapy, or radiotherapy, would make the vaccine less safe for you.
Does the COVID-19 vaccine interfere with mammogram screenings?
Please refer to our Vaccine Safety page for an answer to this question.
From a safety standpoint, there are no special concerns regarding any specific types of cancer or the stage (progression) of cancer and timing of the vaccine.
The influenza vaccine is slightly less effective in people with solid tumors and even less effective in people with blood cancers such as lymphoma, leukemia, or myeloma. It is not clear whether low effectiveness is due to the cancer treatment or to the underlying disease. The three COVID-19 vaccines authorized for emergency use by the FDA have much higher effectiveness rates overall than the influenza vaccine.
Even though effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine may be lower in people with hematologic (blood) cancer, it is still expected to offer protection. While the current recommendation for immunocompromised patients is no different than other patients, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is evaluating data if an additional booster dose is needed.
You can also be protected from COVID-19 if the people around you are being vaccinated. Please encourage your household contacts (as well as friends and colleagues) to get vaccinated. The more people who get vaccinated, the lower the risk of exposure to the virus becomes for cancer patients and others who are unable to produce an immune response to the vaccine.
Even if you are healthy and do not know anyone with cancer, your vaccination against COVID-19 is a wonderful gift for all the people in your community who cannot respond to the vaccine.
Each of the NCCC locations is making plans for vaccinating patients. Specially trained nurses and technicians will give the vaccine and will be observing patients to make sure there are no reactions.
It is safe for NCCC patients to leave the Cancer Center and go to another area of the facility to receive their COVID-19 vaccine.
A third dose and a booster shot are the same vaccine. The only difference is that the dose of the Moderna booster shot is lower.
It is recommended that everyone who is eligible, whether they are in treatment for cancer or not, get a third dose or booster six months after the second dose. Learn more about booster shots.