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COVID-19 vaccine and booster shots for cancer patients

Dec 20, 2021

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Our experts answer your questions.

As a cancer patient, you may wonder whether the COVID-19 vaccine is safe for you. Here, our experts from VCU Massey Cancer Center answer common questions about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine and booster shots for cancer patients.

How dangerous is COVID-19 for cancer patients?

Having cancer increases your risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Fortunately, cancer patients, including those with suppressed immune systems, can get vaccinated against the virus if they have no history of severe allergic reaction to any component of the vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Is the vaccine safe and effective for cancer patients?

Clinical trials have demonstrated that the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots are similar in people with and without underlying medical conditions that put them at increased risk of severe infection. However, there is limited data regarding the vaccine’s effectiveness in cancer patients.

Although it is expected that some patients with compromised immune systems may experience a decreased response to the vaccine, a panel of leading cancer and infectious disease experts concluded that the vaccines are important to reduce the risk or severity of COVID-19 infection. According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), there is no evidence that the vaccines are not safe for the majority of cancer patients.

Katie Barnes, vice president of the cancer service line at Massey and VCU Health, encourages all eligible oncology patients to schedule their vaccination and booster shots.

“Vaccines are one of the great modern triumphs of public health, and the COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to be safe and effective at stopping the spread of the virus,” Barnes said. “We know from the clinical trials that the serious reactions are rare, and our oncology cancer patients should consider themselves a priority to receive the vaccine.”

The CDC states that everyone 16 years and older can get a booster shot, and recommends that everyone 18 and older should get a booster shot, including moderately to severely immunocompromised people.

What about patients who have had a bone marrow transplant, stem cell transplant or CAR T-cell therapy?

Special considerations should be given in regard to the timing and type of COVID vaccine and booster shots given to patients who have had a bone marrow transplant, stem cell transplant or CAR T-cell therapy. If you’ve had a bone marrow transplant, stem cell transplant or CAR T-cell therapy, contact your Cellular Immunotherapies & Transplant provider at VCU Massey Cancer Center before getting the vaccine. You can contact your post-transplant coordinator through the VCU Health Patient Portal or by calling (804) 628-7290. Learn more about these guidelines.

How can I get the vaccine or a booster shot?

Local pharmacies and many local health districts now routinely offer vaccination appointments. Immuno-compromised patients may need to follow a different vaccine protocol. Please consult your doctor for more information. Existing VCU Health patients can call their primary care provider to schedule a vaccination or booster shot appointment. For more information on how to get vaccinated, please visit VCU Health's COVID-19 vaccine site.

NOTE: For COVID-19 vaccinations for Massey patients, we recommend either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. Please consult with your doctor before receiving any other form of vaccine.

What happens after I get vaccinated? Do I have to wear my mask?

Once you’re vaccinated, we encourage you to continue following all existing guidelines to protect yourself from COVID-19 exposure and infection. This includes wearing your mask, social distancing, avoiding crowds and washing your hands.

What about side effects?

Common side effects for anyone receiving the vaccine or booster shot include pain and swelling in your arm where you got your injection as well as potential fever, chills, tiredness or headache. If these symptoms occur, they should go away on their own in a few days.

For more information

Cancer patients with questions or concerns about getting the vaccine or booster shot should discuss the risks and benefits with their oncology care team. For more information about the COVID-19 vaccine, please visit the VCU Health COVID-19 vaccine site. For news and information on COVID-19, visit the VCU Health COVID-19 news center.

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