Coronavirus vaccines and cancer

Should people with cancer get the coronavirus vaccine?

Public health experts and cancer specialists have agreed that people living with cancer should receive the vaccine. The coronavirus vaccines that are available can be given to people who are having cancer treatment. Vaccines save lives and reduce the need for hospital stays from coronavirus.

Vaccines can be given before, during or after cancer treatment. If you are due to start cancer treatment or have cancer surgery your medical team may recommend that you have a vaccination before treatment begins. Having a vaccination before treatment gives a better chance of protection. 

Vaccine guidance

Visit government websites for vaccination guidance in:

How effective is the vaccine?

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. 

National COVID Cancer Antibody Study

This study is looking for volunteers in England from people who have been diagnosed with cancer or had cancer treatment in the last year. This checks the level of coronavirus antibodies people have after being vaccinated. 

The test is a blood test which you do at home with a tiny amount of blood from your finger. The test kit is posted to you and comes with everything you need. You take the sample and post it back.

Get information on the study and enrol.

 

How is the vaccine given?

Most vaccines are initially given as two injections. The vaccines offer significant protection after a single dose, at least in the short term. The second dose completes the course and provides better protection. Two doses are now recommended for everyone over the age of 12.

Third vaccine dose

The Joint committee on vaccination and immunisation (JCVI) recommends that anyone whose immune system was low (immunosuppressed) when they had their first or second vaccination should be offered a third dose. This will help give more immunity against the virus. It is sometimes called a third primary dose as it is part of your initial vaccination.  

Third doses for people who are immunosuppressed are now being given across the UK. 

The JCVI also now recommends that people who have a third primary dose should also get a booster dose 3 months after their third dose (see below).

 

Who can have a third primary dose?

Those who may be offered a third dose include people:

  • with blood cancer
  • who had chemotherapy or radiotherapy that lowered their immune system in the 6 months before they were vaccinated
  • who have had either an allogeneic or an autologous stem cell transplant in the last 24 months
  • who had a stem cell transplant more than 24 months ago but who have ongoing problems with their immune system.

People with non-cancer conditions that affect their immune system can also have a third dose.

How do I get the third vaccine dose?

You will hear from your GP practice or hospital team. The third dose should be given at least eight weeks after your second dose. But the timing will depend on the treatment you are having. Your doctors can advise on the best time to have your third dose.

If you have not received an appointment and think you may have been missed, ask your cancer doctor or GP if you should get a third primary dose.

What is a booster dose

The immunity you get from the first two doses of the vaccine may decrease over time. Because of this, a booster dose is currently being offered to people aged 18 or over to extend their immunity. The booster dose is given at least 3 months after the second dose of vaccine. 

To check when you will be eligible and for information regarding booking please see the links in Vaccine guidance at the top of this page for advice for where you live.

If you have had a third dose of vaccine because you are immunosuppressed you can have a booster at least 3 months after your third dose. 

 

Is it safe to have a flu vaccine?

You may be offered the flu vaccine at the same time as your covid vaccine. The flu vaccine is the safest and most effective way to protect you against flu. Research shows it is safe to have the two vaccines at the same time. You should get the flu vaccine when it is offered to you. 

I have other questions about the vaccine. Who can I speak to?

You may find it helpful to talk to your cancer healthcare team who can answer any questions you might have about getting vaccinated. They can also talk to you about the best time for you to have the vaccine. 

Or to speak to our experts, you can:

Coronavirus restrictions

It is understandable that this might be a worrying and uncertain time for people living with cancer. We have information about the support that's available, as well as advice to help you stay safe and cope with uncertainty. 

Read more about coronavirus restrictions.