A vaccine is a type of medicine that trains the body’s immune system to fight a disease it has not come into contact with before. In the case of infectious illnesses, vaccines try to prevent people from becoming ill with a disease, instead of treating people once they have caught it.
Last updated: 27 Jan 2021 1:12 pm
Two vaccines are currently available in the UK for coronavirus (COVID-19). One vaccine was developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, and the second vaccine was developed by Astra Zeneca and a research team based in Oxford. Other vaccines will be approved by an independent organisation called the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) during 2021.
The COVID-19 vaccines that are currently available have not been tested specifically in people with cancer, but there is no reason to think they would not be safe if you have cancer. They are not ‘live’ vaccines, so they can be used if you have had chemotherapy or have a weakened or impaired immune system.
We recommend that you get the vaccine when it is offered.
Many people with cancer will be included as a ‘priority group’ for vaccination because of their age or clinical vulnerability (Clinically Extremely Vulnerable).
Our recommendations regarding timing of the vaccine do not relate to the safety of the vaccine, but relate to potential adverse effects of the vaccine (e.g. fever) which could lead to confusion in the context of ongoing medical treatment. For this reason, we advise the following:
- Patients should not receive the vaccine on the same day as anti-cancer treatment
- Patients should not receive the vaccine if they are currently being treated for an infection
- Patients should not receive the vaccine if they currently have active anti-cancer treatment toxicity
- Patients should not receive the vaccine within 10 days before elective surgery or until full recovery after discharge from surgery
- Patients on clinical trials may receive the vaccine
- Patients should not receive the vaccine if they have had a previous allergic reaction (including immediate onset anaphylaxis) to:
- a previous dose of the same coronavirus vaccine
- any component of the coronavirus vaccine.
It is possible that vaccines against coronavirus will be less effective on people with cancer, as a result of their weakened immune systems due to both the cancer itself and the treatment. However, the potential benefits in people with cancer are significant. Public Health experts and cancer specialists have agreed that people living with cancer should receive the vaccine.
Some cancer treatments, especially chemotherapy, can lower normal immunity. This can be a problem with certain types of vaccines called ‘live’ vaccines. Coronavirus vaccines are not ‘live’ vaccines, so they can be given before, during or after cancer treatment.
It is possible that the vaccines may be slightly less effective for people having chemotherapy or other cancer treatments. But it is still expected that the vaccine will give some useful protection against the virus.
Other cancer treatments
The coronavirus vaccines can be given to people who are receiving or who have received radiotherapy as part of their treatment.
The coronavirus vaccines can be given to people who are having hormonal therapies as part of their treatment, for example people with breast or prostate cancer.
Experts on cancer immunotherapy have recommended that people on immunotherapy should receive the coronavirus vaccines. They can also be given to people who are receiving or who have received targeted therapies (including antibody treatments) as part of their therapy.
Specialists say that people who have had stem cell transplant autologous or allogenic can have the vaccine three to six months after their transplant.
Yes. Prior infection with coronavirus may not provide immunity against re-infection. Ideally vaccination should be deferred until clinical recovery, and at least until four weeks after onset of coronavirus symptoms (or four weeks from the first positive test in those who have never had symptoms).
It is not known whether the vaccination prevents the transmission of the virus by asymptomatic people who have been vaccinated. You should therefore continue to follow social distancing guidelines.
For more information
You may find it helpful to talk to your cancer team who can answer any questions you might have about getting vaccinated.