January 21, 2021
Patients with cancer are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 because of the immunocompromising nature of cancer treatments. And while the arrival of vaccines gives us hope, it also leads to confusion among cancer patients. Here, we try to address some of the most common questions for our cancer patients, cancer survivors and their caretakers.
Are the COVID-19 vaccines safe for cancer patients and cancer survivors to receive?
Yes. The COVID-19 vaccine is safe. Getting the vaccine is the best way for cancer patients to protect themselves from getting COVID-19 and suffering from the effects of infection. Because the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are equally effective, it’s important to get whichever is available to you.
- Patients with solid tumor cancers should be offered the COVID-19 vaccination and should be stratified by factors such as age, if components of the vaccine are not contraindicated.
- There is no contraindication to receive COVID-19 vaccine across the broad range of therapies that patients with solid tumors may receive:
- Cytotoxic chemotherapy
- Radiation therapy
- Hormonal therapies
- Targeted therapies
- Surgical management
- Patients who have previously tested positive for COVID-19 infection or have positive COVID-19 antibodies should still receive vaccination.
- COVID-19 vaccination should be separated from other vaccines by a minimum of 14 days.
- For patients undergoing cancer-related surgery, no specific timing is recommended relative to surgery, except for elective splenectomy.
- For patients undergoing elective splenectomy, first dose of vaccination should occur more than 2 weeks prior to splenectomy or in the postsurgical period, after recovery.
Talk to your medical oncologist about the risks and benefits of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine and how it may impact your cancer care. Consideration of the vaccine should be done on a case-by-case basis.
I’m a cancer patient. Whom should I ask about receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, my primary care doctor or my medical oncologist?
Talk to your cancer specialist about the risks and benefits of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine and how it may impact your cancer care.
When will the COVID-19 vaccines be available to cancer patients and caregivers?
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has outlined a phased approach to administering vaccines as follows:
- Phase 1 (began December 2020): Healthcare workers, essential workers, long-term care residents
- Phase 2 (late January-March): People age 65 and over, critical workers, people in congregate settings
- Phase 3 (March-May): People age 16-64 with certain medical conditions, including cancer
- Phase 4 (May-June): People age 16-64 with other medical conditions, not including cancer
- Phase 5 (June): General population age 16-64, without medical conditions
The timing of each phase is subject to change based on the number of available vaccines and successful distribution. When we are permitted to begin offering patients vaccinations, we will communicate to you in MyChart. We will use MyChart to schedule vaccination appointments. You can prepare by ensuring you can access your MyChart account or by signing up for one if you do not have one.
I’m a patient at The University of Kansas Cancer Center. Where do I get my COVID-19 vaccination?
We are currently in the planning phase for the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine to cancer patients and will provide more information as soon as it is finalized.
Can I receive the COVID-19 vaccine if I have lymphedema?
There is no evidence to suggest that receiving the COVID-19 vaccine will negatively impact lymphedema.
Will the COVID-19 vaccine interact with any of my medications?
There is currently no evidence to suggest that the COVID-19 vaccine interacts with other medications.
Am I at greater risk if I don’t get the vaccine?
If you have a compromised immune system, you may be at higher risk for infection. Discuss the risks and benefits of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine with your medical oncologist.
Is there a COVID-19 vaccine schedule for BMT patients?
For patients undergoing a hematopoietic stem cell transplant, the timing for COVID-19 vaccination will depend on the rate of COVID-19 transmission in your area. In regions with a high transmission rate, vaccination may start as early as the 3rd month of transplant. In regions with a slower transmission rate, vaccination may be given after the 6th month of transplant to optimize the immune response. Discuss vaccination with your hematologist-oncologist to determine the most appropriate timing.
In addition, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) has formed a COVID-19 Vaccine Committee that includes top hematology and oncology experts with expertise in infectious diseases, vaccine development and delivery, medical ethics and health information technology. The committee has developed a vaccination schedule for cancer patients and recommends that all people currently in active cancer treatment should get the vaccine, with some considerations regarding immunosuppression and timing.
Talk to your oncologist to determine what is best for you.
For additional answers to commonly asked questions about the COVID-19 vaccines, including their safety, effectiveness and side effects, visit our COVID-19 vaccine FAQ.
Additional COVID-19 resources for cancer patients
For more information on the COVID-19 vaccine in cancer patients, please visit: