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Covid vaccine and blood cancer

We're here for you if you want to talk

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Covid vaccine and blood cancer

Covid vaccine information for people with leukaemia, lymphoma, myeloma or any other blood cancer. This page is about when you will get the vaccine, who can get the vaccine, and safety and effectiveness in people with blood cancer.

Page updated 11 January 2021

Covid vaccines: quick recap

There are now three coronavirus vaccines currently approved for use in the UK. The first two are already being rolled out:

  • This is an mRNA vaccine (it contains part of the genetic code of coronavirus to stimulate an antibody response in our bodies – but it’s not a live virus)
  • It has been approved by the MHRA (the independent agency responsible for regulating medicines in the UK) and is already being given to people in the UK.
  • Clinical trials have shown it is 95% effective and there are no serious safety concerns. The trial included 43,000 people and included people aged 65 and over, whose immune systems are weaker than those of younger people. In this age group, 94% effectiveness was observed.
  • The vaccine is given in two doses, with the second dose given at least 3 weeks after the first dose.
  • It can be used in people aged 16 and over.
  • The UK has currently ordered 40 million doses of the vaccine (enough to vaccinate 20 million people because each person requires two doses).
  • In the first week of the roll-out, 137,897 people received their first dose.
  • This is a viral vector vaccine – it is made from a genetically modified virus that causes the common cold in monkeys. It has had an additional gene added to it, to stimulate an antibody response to coronavirus in our bodies. It is not a live vaccine.
  • It has been approved by the MHRA and is due to start being given to people from 4 January 2021.
  • It can be used in people aged 18 and over.
  • The clinical trial included 23,000 people, including people with cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, and diabetes. Interim results showed the vaccine was 62% effective when given in two doses, and 90% effective when the first dose was a half dose (although the half dose was only given to a sub-group of people on the trial).
  • Now the MHRA have assessed the full data, they are not recommending the first dose be a half dose, because there isn't enough clear data to support this (only a minority of people on the trial received a half dose, and there may be other reasons why effectiveness was increased in this group). The MHRA recommends two full doses, with the second dose given 4 to 12 weeks after the first dose. According to the MHRA, the jab already provides 70% protection 22 days after the first dose. The second dose is still needed to complete the course though. It's also possible that effectiveness increases with a longer gap between the first and second dose. Participants who had one or more comorbidities in the trial also had a similar level of vaccine efficacy to other people.
  • The UK has ordered 100 million doses of this vaccine (enough to vaccinate 50 million people because each person requires two doses).
  • This is an mRNA vaccine, like the Pfizer one.
  • It has been approved by the MHRA and is due to start being given to people from the Spring.
  • It can be used in people aged 18 and over.
  • The trial included 30,000 people and results showed it was 94% effective in preventing disease, including in the elderly. The trial included 7,000 people over the age of 65, as well as people with diabetes and cardiac disease.
  • The vaccine is given in two doses, with the second dose recommended to be 28 days after the first.
  • The UK has now ordered 17 million doses of this vaccine.

Other covid vaccines the UK has ordered are:

  • This vaccine is in Phase 3 of its clinical trial (the last phase). We hope to see interim data in early 2021.
  • The trial includes 15,000 people in the UK. More than 25% are over the age of 65, and a proportion have underlying medical conditions.
  • The UK has ordered 60 million doses of this vaccine.
  • This vaccine is entering Phase 3 of its clinical trial. Volunteers are being recruited onto the trial and receiving the vaccine between now and March 2021. During 2021, the trial will continue to monitor and analyse the results.
  • The UK has ordered 30 million doses of this vaccine
  • After Phase 1/2 interim results showed a lower immune response in older adults, a Phase 2b study is planned for early 2021 to continue improving this vaccine.
  • The UK has ordered 60 million doses of this vaccine.
  • Clinical trials of the Valnea vaccine started in the UK on 16th December on a small number of volunteers. This is a Phase 1/2 trial. If the results are positive, the optimum dose will be set and larger numbers of volunteers will be recruited in 2021 and the trial will move into Phase 3.
  • The UK has ordered 60 million doses of this vaccine.

In what order will people with blood cancer get a covid vaccine?

Once the MHRA has approved a vaccine as being safe and effective for general use in the UK (as has happened for Pfizer, AstraZeneca/Oxford and Moderna vaccines), the JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation) advises UK health departments on how to deliver it.

JCVI are recommending the following order for who should receive the coronavirus vaccine first:

  1. residents in a care home for older adults and the staff working there
  2. people aged 80 years and over, as well as frontline health and social care workers
  3. people aged 75 years and over
  4. people aged 70 years and over, or 16 and over but clinically extremely vulnerable
  5. people aged 65 years and over
  6. people aged 16 to 64 years with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk from coronavirus
  7. people aged 60 years and over
  8. people aged 55 years and over
  9. people aged 50 years and over

People who have or had blood cancer and are on the shielding list are in the fourth prioritized group, unless you qualify for a higher priority group (1-3) due to your age or occupation.

This priority list is still applicable now that we have three vaccines being rolled out in the UK (Pfizer, AstraZeneca/Oxford and Moderna). This is the order in which people should receive a vaccine, regardless of which vaccine they are offered.

This guidance may remain the same if and when other covid vaccines are rolled out. However, if future coronavirus vaccines are shown to work differently in different people, the JCVI can update this guidance.

When will people with blood cancer get a covid vaccine?

The government have said that the first 4 priority groups above (everyone 70 or over, and those who are clinically vulnerable) should have been invited for a vaccine by 15 February 2021. This would mean that people with blood cancer should have been invited by this date.

How to get a covid vaccine if you have blood cancer

Make sure you are on the Shielded Patients List, so that you are invited for your covid vaccine along with the rest of priority group 4 (the clinically extremely vulnerable). We have more information on how to do this: How to get a covid vaccine if you have blood cancer.

Are all the covid vaccines safe for people with blood cancer?

The Pfizer, AstraZeneca/Oxford and Moderna covid vaccines are considered safe for people with blood cancer and the rest of the population.

As with any new medicine, data from robust clinical trials involving large numbers of people has been closely assessed by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), who have judged the vaccines to be safe and effective, and recommended their roll-out in the UK.

Although the Pfizer, AstraZeneca/Oxford and Moderna covid vaccines have not been tested in people with blood cancer specifically, there are several reasons why these vaccines are thought, by us and clinical experts, to be safe for people with blood cancer:

  • The vaccines have been tested on older people, who have weaker immune systems, and on people with high-risk health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease and diabetes, and no serious safety concerns were found.
  • The vaccines have been tested on tens of thousands of people. The reason clinical trials are this large is to ensure that even very rare serious effects have a chance to be discovered. If there are any serious safety issues with a vaccine, it’s highly likely they would come up during the trial.
  • We know other vaccines that work in similar ways or use similar products are already used and are safe in people with blood cancer.

The MHRA don’t make their judgements alone – the clinical trial results are also assessed by an independent working group of experts, and by the Commission on Human Medicines. Batch tests are also done in the laboratory by the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control (part of the MHRA) to check the quality of the vaccines, and experts inspect the sites used to develop the vaccines, in the lab and during manufacture and distribution.

If you're immunocompromised or on treatment

For information about whether you can have the covid vaccine during cancer treatment, if you are immunocompromised, or if you've had a stem cell transplant, see our page about the covid vaccine and cancer treatment.

Are some covid vaccines more effective than others for people with different types of blood cancer?

The clinical trials for coronavirus vaccines that have been approved in the UK (Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna) have not included people with blood cancer as far as we are aware. This means we can't fully understand how effective the different vaccines will be in people with different types of blood cancer.

However, when clinical trial data shows that a covid vaccine is highly effective in general, and we believe that the vaccine is safe for people with blood cancer, then it is still advisable for people with blood cancer to receive it. Some people with blood cancer have a weaker immune system, meaning their immune response to the vaccine might not be as strong as in someone without blood cancer, but the vaccine could still offer a level of protection, and some protection is better than none. This is similar to what we see with the flu vaccine in people with blood cancer.

It’s not possible to know right now whether any one coronavirus vaccine is more effective than another for people with blood cancer. And not enough people with blood cancer have had a vaccine yet to look at effectiveness in different types of blood cancer. But we do think that these vaccines, if they’re approved by the MHRA, offer protection and are worth having. And we know the risk of getting seriously ill from coronavirus is high for people with blood caner. So, if you are offered the covid vaccine, it is advisable to have it as soon as you can, whichever version you are offered.

As more people have the covid vaccine, we will continue to learn more about how it works in people with blood cancer, and will keep updating our information. There’s more information below about how safety and effectiveness will be monitored in people with blood cancer.

If you're immunocompromised or on treatment

For information about whether you can have the covid vaccine during cancer treatment, if you are immunocompromised, or if you've had a stem cell transplant, see our page about the covid vaccine and cancer treatment.

Can my family have the covid vaccine?

Not solely because of you, no. However, family members aged 50 or over, or 16 and over with underlying health conditions, will be offered their vaccinations according to the priority list shown above (under ‘When will people with blood cancer get a vaccine?’).

In Scotland, ‘unpaid carers’ will also be prioritised for the coronavirus vaccine alongside other people with underlying health conditions.

Giving the covid vaccine to people in the same household as clinically extremely vulnerable people was something that was considered by the JCVI, but because there is no data on whether the vaccines actually prevent transmission of the virus, it’s not clear what level of protection this would offer, so it’s not recommended at the moment. We are continuing to speak to the government about this issue though.

The aim is to learn more about the impact of the vaccines on transmission during the vaccine roll-out. If we learn more about transmission, the JCVI may revisit the idea of vaccinating certain people to protect others.

After all 9 priority groups above have been vaccinated, we expect there will be a plan for vaccinating the rest of the adult population, but this hasn’t been decided on yet.

If you’re worried about the risk of adults or children you live with catching coronavirus, read our information on Coronavirus guidance for people at high risk.

Covid vaccine for children with blood cancer

At the moment, the UK is rolling out the Pfizer, AstraZeneca/Oxford and Moderna covid vaccines to the 9 priority groups outlined above. This does not currently include any children under 16.

There is currently very limited data on vaccination in teenagers, and no data on vaccination in younger children. This will need to be researched further before a covid vaccine for children can be recommended.

We do know that for many children with blood cancer, the risk of coronavirus is not as significant as previously thought. Coronavirus affects children much less severely than it does adults, and the latest evidence suggests that many children with cancer are not at high risk of becoming seriously ill if they get coronavirus. This is why many children with cancer were removed from the shielding list this year.

There is a group of children that are still classed as clinically extremely vulnerable. At the moment, these children will be taking extra precautions to avoid any infections (not just coronavirus). We have more information about which children with cancer are clinically extremely vulnerable and guidance on reducing the risk for children.

You can find more information on coronavirus and children with cancer from the Children's Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG).

What if I can’t have the covid vaccine?

There may be a small number of people who can’t have the covid vaccine for clinical reasons. One option being looked at for this group is a treatment containing COVID-19 neutralising antibodies, made by AstraZeneca.

For information about whether you can have the covid vaccine during cancer treatment, if you are immunocompromised, or if you've had a stem cell transplant, see our page about the covid vaccine and cancer treatment.

Covid vaccine allergies

Early on in the roll-out of the Pfizer vaccine, there were two reports of serious allergic reactions, both in NHS workers who were given the Pfizer vaccine. This led to the MHRA quickly publishing precautionary advice that people with a history of anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction) to a vaccine, medicine or food should not receive the vaccine for now. This was as a precaution.

The advice has since been updated to say:

  • For Pfizer, AstraZeneca/Oxford and Moderna covid vaccines, if you have ever had a severe allergic reaction to any of the active substances or any of the other ingredients listed, you should not have the vaccine. Those with other allergies can now have the vaccines. Speak to your healthcare team if you are unsure. Here are the lists of Pfizer vaccine ingredients, AstraZeneca vaccine ingredients and Moderna vaccine ingredients.

Both NHS workers are recovering well, and this incident has shown that side effect reporting and responding to safety data in real-time is working well.

How will safety and effectiveness be monitored when people with blood cancer start having the covid vaccine?

Now that people are receiving the vaccine, there are processes in place to monitor safety and effectiveness on an ongoing basis, just like when any new meditation enters clinical practice.

  • The Yellow Card Scheme is the main way the MHRA collects information on suspected side effects and adverse reactions to medicines. This relies on healthcare professionals and patients reporting any side effects they notice. This is how we learn about rarer side effects in certain patients as larger and larger numbers of people are given a medicine. If there are any adverse reactions in people with blood cancer that are concerning, these should be reported to the Yellow Card Scheme.
  • Public Health England will be monitoring vaccine effectiveness across the population and looking at vaccine failures.
  • You can find out more about efforts in the UK to monitor the effectiveness of the vaccine from the National Institute for Health Research.

We believe there are also plans to actively monitor people who are immune-supressed after their covid vaccine. We are in the process of trying to find out more about the various research projects underway, so we can tell you how people with blood cancer will be monitored. We will update our information on this as soon as we know more.

Keep updated about coronavirus and blood cancer

Join our mailing list for key updates about coronavirus for people with blood cancer, what we're doing to help, and ways you can help, including campaigns you may be interested in.

Support for you

Call our free and confidential helpline on 0808 2080 888 from Monday to Friday, 10am to 7pm, and Saturday to Sunday, 10am to 1pm.

We are currently receiving a very high volume of calls related to coronavirus, so if you're not able to get through straight away, please leave a message and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.

You can also email us if you prefer to get in contact that way. We'll usually get back to you within two working days, but due to the current rate of calls and emails we are currently receiving it may take us longer.

Talk to other people with blood cancer on our Online Community Forum – there is a group for coronavirus questions and support.

You can also find out what's helping other people affected by blood cancer through coronavirus and beyond in our pages on living well with or after blood cancer.

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We're here for you if you want to talk

0808 2080 888

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