The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a serious impact on everyone, including cancer patients, their families and caregivers. In addition to existing actions we know can help prevent spread of the virus (hand washing, wearing a mask, social/physical distancing, sanitizing surfaces regularly and staying home when sick or told to quarantine) there are now COVID-19 vaccines available to the general public in a segmented roll-out.
Every cancer patient’s situation is different, so we encourage you to discuss the risks and benefits of getting a COVID-19 vaccine with your oncologist.
Should people with cancer and undergoing active treatment be vaccinated against COVID-19?
The existing COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to be safe and effective for the general population and there is no evidence that they will not be safe for most cancer patients, as long as components of that vaccine are not contraindicated. Contraindications include anyone with a history of immediate allergic reaction of any severity to any part of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines or to polysorbate. People developing severe (such as anaphylaxis) or immediate allergic reactions after a first dose of mRNA COVID-19 vaccine should not receive a second dose.
It is possible that cancer patients could have a reduced immune response, which means the vaccine might not be as effective in protecting cancer patients from the effects of the COVID-19 virus as it would be for generally healthy individuals. For this reason, it is important that cancer patients continue to follow all current guidance (hand washing, wearing a mask, social/physical distancing, sanitizing surfaces regularly and staying home when sick or told to quarantine) to protect themselves against COVID-19.
Despite the possibility of a reduced immune response from the COVID-19 vaccine, it may still offer some benefit and is important to reduce the risk or severity of COVID-19 to cancer patients.
If you have a history of immediate allergic reaction to other vaccines or injectable medications, you should discuss with your physician the risks of developing a severe allergic reaction and balance these risks against the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination.
**It should be noted that patients receiving immunosuppressive and cytotoxic treatments (like certain chemotherapy and immunotherapy drugs) were excluded from participation in the vaccine trials to date so there is little to no data on the safety and efficacy of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in cancer patients.
Timing matters for patients who choose to get vaccinated.
Cancer patients currently receiving treatment for cancer should talk with their treatment team about the best plan for the timing of their vaccination.
Oncologists have experience providing other types of vaccines to patients receiving treatment for cancer. While there are no safety concerns about vaccination for patients who are in treatment, the COVID-19 vaccines will be more effective if timed in coordination with your cancer treatment schedule. Plans such as providing the vaccine in between cycles of therapy and after appropriate waiting periods for patients receiving certain treatments can be used to reduce the risks while maintaining the success of vaccination.
Should cancer survivors be vaccinated against COVID-19?
Cancer survivors may be offered vaccination against COVID-19 as long as any components of the vaccine are not contraindicated.
Are there people who should not be vaccinated?
At this time, only those with contraindications (outlined above) to a specific vaccine component should not be offered vaccination with that specific product.
Please discuss with your oncologist any concern you might have about a potential contraindication to the vaccine.
What other concerns are there for people with cancer who are vaccinated?
As there is still uncertainty about how much protection the COVID-19 vaccine will provide immunocompromised patients with cancer, vaccinated patients and their caregivers should continue to follow current guidance (hand washing, wearing a mask, social/physical distancing, sanitizing surfaces regularly and staying home when sick or told to quarantine) to protect themselves from exposure to COVID-19.
When will the COVID-19 vaccine be available to me and where should I go to receive it?
The COVID-19 vaccine will be rolled out according to the State of Tennessee Department of Health Vaccination Plan. Tennesseans can find out the phases of the vaccination plan and register for an appointment by going to https://covid19.tn.gov/covid-19-vaccines/vaccine-phases.
Patients may also check with their primary care physician or pharmacy about availability of the vaccine, as well as watch their local news for updates. Currently, UT Medical Center is providing vaccine to a limited number of patients following the State of Tennessee Vaccination Phases (see link above for the TN Vaccination Plan).
Is the COVID-19 vaccine free if I am eligible to receive it?
Yes, the COVID-19 vaccine will be free to anyone who wishes to get one. However, some vaccination providers may charge an administration fee for giving the shot.
Are there side effects associated with receiving the COVID-19 vaccine?
No serious side effects have been seen. However, some people have experienced headache, fever, body aches, felt tired or had some redness and injection site discomfort. These symptoms usually go away within a couple of days.