Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine update for cancer patients

Latest update - Friday 26 February 2021

News and information about the vaccine is changing frequently. We will keep this page updated with new information when we have it.

We know there has been a lot of information in the media about different coronavirus vaccines. We understand that people with cancer and their friends and family will have a lot of questions. This page has answers to the most common questions we've been asked.

Coronavirus is having a huge impact on people living with cancer. Macmillan Cancer Support are doing the best we can to support people during this time. If you would like to talk, you can call the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 00 00 or chat to one of our specialists online, 7 days a week 8am to 8pm.

When will a coronavirus vaccine be available?

On Wednesday 2nd December, it was announced that the coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer/BioNTech has been approved in the UK.

On Wednesday 30th December, it was announced that the Oxford University/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine has also been approved in the UK. 

These vaccines are now available and will be given to clinically vulnerable groups over the next few months.

On Friday 8th January, it was announced that the Moderna coronavirus vaccine has been approved in the UK. Supplies of this vaccine are not expected to be available until the spring.

Other vaccines are still being developed in clinical trials and should be available once they have been approved.

When will people with cancer be given the vaccine? Will they be prioritised?

We understand that people with cancer are eager to know when they might be given the coronavirus vaccine.

We recommend that you get the vaccine when it is offered. For just now you should follow the government guidelines.

The decision about who gets the vaccine and when will follow advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). You can read more about this here

Many people with cancer will be included as a ‘priority group’ for vaccination because of their age or clinical vulnerability. Your healthcare team will be in touch to invite you for a vaccine.

If you live in England and you are aged 70 or over or have been told you are extremely vulnerable, you can book a vaccination for yourself. To do this you must be registered with a GP. Find out more here.

Please be assured that we are reviewing information and guidance on a regular basis so that we can continue to keep people with cancer informed.

Coronavirus vaccine and cancer treatment

Can I have the coronavirus vaccine if I am having cancer treatment?

The Covid vaccines that are currently available can be given to people who are having cancer treatment.

Although the Covid vaccines are new, healthcare professionals have a lot of experience of giving other vaccines to people living with cancer. Public health experts and cancer specialists have agreed that people living with cancer should receive the vaccine.

If you're having chemotherapy

Some cancer treatments, especially chemotherapy, can lower normal immunity. This can be a problem with certain types of vaccines called ‘live’ vaccines. Covid vaccines are not ‘live’ vaccines. 

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 useful protection against the virus.

Other cancer treatments

The Covid vaccines can be given to people who are receiving or who have received radiotherapy as part of their treatment.

The Covid 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 Covid 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.

If you have had a stem-cell transplant your healthcare team can talk to you about the best time for you to have the vaccine. 

You may find it helpful to talk to your cancer healthcare team who can answer any questions you might have about getting vaccinated. 

When to have the vaccine

Vaccines can be given before, during or after cancer treatment. 

If you have been recommended to start treatment that affects your immune system such as chemotherapy or immunotherapy, then receiving a Covid vaccine before treatment starts may improve its effectiveness. But in some situations, people may need to start treatment before having the vaccine.

Your healthcare team can tell you about the options available in your situation.

How do I get the vaccine?

The NHS has already started to give vaccines to people. You will be contacted by the NHS for your vaccine appointment. We recommend you have a vaccination when it is offered. You should continue to follow government guidance on keeping safe.

How effective is the vaccine?

Effective vaccines save lives and reduce hospitalisations from coronavirus. Any vaccine that is approved is effective.

The vaccines are given as two injections. The vaccines offer considerable protection after a single dose, at least in the short term. For both vaccines the second dose completes the course and is likely to be important for longer term protection.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has recommended that as many people on their priority list of at-risk groups should be offered a first vaccine dose as soon as possible. They  advise that then:
  • the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine can be given between 3 to 12 weeks after the first

  • the second dose of the AstraZeneca (Oxford) vaccine can be given between 4 and 12 weeks after the first.

This will protect the greatest number of people in the shortest possible time.

We don’t yet know how long people who are vaccinated will be protected from coronavirus or if it prevents transmission.

Will I get to choose which vaccine I receive?

No. Any vaccines that are available will have been approved because they pass the MHRA’s tests on safety and efficacy, so it is recommended people take up the offer of any approved vaccine.

When will extremely vulnerable people get the vaccine?

At the moment, it has not been confirmed exactly when different groups will get the vaccine. To keep up with the latest information, please visit the JCVI website.

I am clinically vulnerable. Should my family get the vaccine?

There is no evidence yet that this vaccination prevents the transmission of the virus. Because of this, the families and close contacts of people with cancer will not be vaccinated at this stage. The supply of the vaccine is currently limited and people at greatest risk will be protected most effectively if they are vaccinated directly. Your family should continue to follow social distancing guidelines.

Do I need to continue shielding or social distancing?

It is important that people still continue to follow the latest government advice about things like social distancing and shielding. Follow the advice and restrictions for where you live in the UK. Visit government websites for guidance on what you can and cannot do in:

Talk to an expert now

If something is worrying you and you need to talk, we're here to listen. From questions about coronavirus, to cancer treatment, to financial advice, we're here for you.

To speak to our experts, you can:

Find out more about the Macmillan teams that are here to support you.