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Covid vaccine and blood cancer

We're here for you if you want to talk

0808 2080 888

[email protected]

Covid vaccine and blood cancer

Covid vaccine information for people with leukaemia, lymphoma, myeloma, MDS, MPN or any other blood cancer. This page is about who can get the vaccine, in which priority groups, and safety and effectiveness in people with blood cancer.

Page updated 14 April 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 ordered 40 million doses of the vaccine (enough to vaccinate 20 million people because each person requires two doses).
  • 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 already being given to people in the UK.
  • 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). Participants who had one or more comorbidities in the trial also had a similar level of vaccine efficacy to other people.
  • 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 we don't fully understand 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.
  • 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 ordered 17 million doses of this vaccine.

Other covid vaccines the UK has ordered are:

  • This vaccine was found to be 89% effective in its Phase 3 trial in the UK. Phase 3 is the final phase of a clinical trial. This vaccine was also found to be effective against the new UK variant of coronavirus.
  • It will be assessed by the MHRA, who can approve the use of this vaccine in the UK.
  • The trial included 15,000 people in the UK. More than 25% were over the age of 65, and a proportion had underlying medical conditions.
  • The UK has ordered 60 million doses of this vaccine.
  • This single shot vaccine was found to be 66% effective in its Phase 3 trial.
  • It will be assessed by the MHRA, who can approve the use of this vaccine in the UK.
  • Unlike vaccines currently approved in the UK, this one only requires one injection rather than two.
  • The UK has ordered 30 million doses of this vaccine
  • Phase 3 of this vaccine's clinical trial is now underway. This is the final phase of a clinical trial.
  • The UK has ordered 60 million doses of this vaccine.
  • Phase 3 of this vaccine's clinical trial is now underway.
  • The UK has ordered 50 million doses of this vaccine.
  • After Phase 1/2 interim results showed a lower immune response in older adults, a new Phase 2 study is being started to continue improving this vaccine.
  • The UK has ordered 60 million doses of this vaccine.

How to get a covid vaccine if you have blood cancer

We have a separate page about how to get a covid vaccine if you have blood cancer or live with someone with blood cancer. This explains who can now be vaccinated in which priority groups, what to do if you still haven't been invited, and how to book your vaccine.

If you have an MPN and are having trouble getting a vaccine, share this document with your GP - it explains why you should be on the shielding list and how to add you.

If you are a household contact of someone with a history of blood cancer, share this document with your GP - it explains why you are entitled to a covid vaccine now.

Covid-19 vaccine priority groups - in what order will people get the vaccine?

Once the MHRA has approved a vaccine as being safe and effective for general use in the UK (as has happened for Pfizer, Oxford-AstraZeneca 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, unpaid carers, and household contacts of immunosuppressed people
  7. people aged 60 years and over
  8. people aged 55 years and over
  9. people aged 50 years and over

This priority list is the order in which people should receive a vaccine, and you may be offered either vaccine.

This is guidance from the JCVI, but governments and health departments in the UK can choose to do things differently. So far, they have broadly followed this guidance.

People who have any type of blood cancer should be on the shielding list and are in group 4 (clinically extremely vulnerable), unless you qualify for a higher priority group (1-3) due to your age or occupation.

If you're not sure whether you are on the shielding list, see our page about how to get on the list and get your covid vaccine.

If you've had blood cancer in the past, you may be included in group 6 - more on this below.

After these 9 priority groups, phase two of the vaccine roll-out in the UK will continue to prioritise people by age, vaccinating the rest of the adult population in this order:

  • all those aged 40 to 49 years
  • all those aged 30 to 39 years
  • all those aged 18 to 29 years

You can read more about phase two of the vaccine roll-out and the reasons for an age-based priority list.

It is possible that the JCVI could change this advice. We will keep our information up to date.

People aged 16 to 64 years with underlying health conditions (group 6)

If you are under 65, and you're not already included in priority group 4 (clinically extremely vulnerable), then you are in group 6 if you have had a stem cell or bone marrow transplant in the past, if you have immunosuppression due to disease or treatment, or if you have any other underlying conditions listed in the government's guidance under 'Persons with underlying health conditions'.

The government refers to The Green Book for a definition of 'immunosuppression' and The Green Book defines "anyone with a history of haematological malignancy" as immunosuppressed - see Chapter 14a page 11 of The Green Book. So if you have a history of blood cancer, you could be in priority group 6.

We have more information about which people with blood cancer should be clinically extremely vulnerable (priority group 4).

Although the government guidance automatically puts people whose stem cell transplant was over 6 months ago in priority group 6, it also highlights that clinicians will use their judgement to add other people to priority group 4 if they feel that's best. If you've had a transplant in the past, we have more information and sources to help you talk to your doctor about which group you are in.

Unpaid carers (if you look after someone with blood cancer)

Unpaid carers are people who are the main carer of an elderly or disabled person (adult or child – and cancer counts as a disability) whose welfare may be at risk if the carer falls ill, or anyone who is eligible for Carer’s Allowance.

If you think you may be an unpaid carer but aren't on Carer's Allowance, read this information from Carer's UK, and contact your GP to register as a carer.

Ideally, you should be registered as a carer to get the vaccine in group 6. You can tell your GP you are a carer, even if you don't qualify for or get Carer's Allowance.

In Scotland, you should still let your GP and/or local carer centre know you are an unpaid carer, but in terms of getting the vaccine, you will also need to self-refer for the vaccine.

We are aware that people who live with someone with blood cancer have been able to get a vaccine by various methods:

  • Call or email your GP to tell them you're looking after someone with blood cancer.
  • Call 119 and tell them you're looking after someone with blood cancer.
  • Contact your local vaccination centre and tell them you're looking after someone with blood cancer.
  • In Scotland, self-refer for the vaccine online as a carer.

Household contacts of immunosuppressed people (if you live with someone with blood cancer)

On 29 March 2021, the JCVI recommended that household contacts of people who are severely immunosuppressed get a covid vaccine in priority group 6, along with unpaid carers and people with underlying health conditions. As of 14 April 2021, we are aware that the NHS in England and Wales is following this advice. We are awaiting confirmation from Scotland and Northern Ireland as to whether they will also follow it.

Anyone who is a household contact of someone with a history of blood cancer should now be offered a covid vaccine in England and Wales.

If you need help talking to your GP about getting the vaccine as a household contact of someone with blood cancer, share the below document with them. This document currently refers to England, but may be helpful for people in Wales too - we will update it to include links for people in Wales as soon as the NHS in Wales release their guidance on how they will implement the vaccines for household contacts.

Household contacts are adults who expect to share living accommodation on most days with someone severely immunosuppressed, where continuing close contact is unavoidable. Both the immunosuppressed person and the household contact need to be 16 or over. Members of support bubbles who do not share living space with the person for the majority of the week are excluded from the definition, but they may be eligible for vaccination in group 6 as registered or unpaid carers (see above).

'Severely immunosuppressed' is defined by the JCVI (and The Green Book on page 11) as:

  • anyone with a history of haematological malignancy - this means anyone with a history of blood cancer
  • people who require long-term immunosuppressive treatments
  • people who are receiving immunosuppressive or immunomodulating biological therapy, or steroid sparing agents
  • people treated with or likely to be treated with systemic steroids for more than a month at a dose equivalent to prednisolone at 20mg or more per day for adults.

You can see the letter sent to GPs in England, the update from the government in Wales, and also the letter from the JCVI, and the letter from Matt Hancock.

GPs will write to any patients they have who are immunosuppressed to tell them about this.

If you are a household contact of someone with a history of blood cancer, you should contact your GP to book a vaccine.

You will need to take your own proof of address to your vaccination, which matches the address of the immunosuppressed person, although GPs have been asked to be flexible if in some situations you are a close contact that does not live at the same address.

If you are registered at a different GP to the immunosuppressed person, you can use the letter they receive with your own GP to book your vaccine.

"I've just been told I have blood cancer"

If you're on this page because you've recently been diagnosed with blood cancer, you're probably struggling to come to terms with a situation you never imagined you'd be in. Read our information on what you need to know when you've just been diagnosed. And contact our Support Services Team who are here to to talk things through.

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

The Pfizer, Oxford-AstraZeneca 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, Oxford-AstraZeneca 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.

What's the difference between safety and effectiveness?

Our panel of experts answer your questions on the covid vaccine. Hear from a lymphoma consultant and researcher, a professor in cancer immunology, a member of the JCVI, and a consultant microbiologist who is herself affected by blood cancer.

Watch the full session or use the playlist to listen to other questions and answers: The covid vaccine and blood cancer: your questions answered.

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 data has been collected yet to look at effectiveness in different types of blood cancer. But we do think that these vaccines, which are 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. We have more information about how vaccine effectiveness will be monitored in people with blood cancer.

Is there a better covid vaccine to have?

Our panel of experts answer your questions on the covid vaccine. Hear from a lymphoma consultant and researcher, a professor in cancer immunology, a member of the JCVI, and a consultant microbiologist who is herself affected by blood cancer.

Watch the full session or use the playlist to listen to other questions and answers: The covid vaccine and blood cancer: your questions answered.

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?

If your family members are classed as 'unpaid carers' or 'household contacts' then they may be able to get their covid vaccine earlier. See the above sections on 'Unpaid carers (if you look after someone with blood cancer)' and 'Household contacts of immunosuppressed people (if you live with someone with blood cancer)'.

If they do not fall into either of these categories, then they will be offered their vaccinations according to the priority list shown at the top of this web page (under ‘Covid-19 vaccine priority groups - in what order will people get the vaccine?’).

We are very pleased that the JCVI have decided to recommend prioritising the vaccine for household contacts of people with blood cancer - thank you to everyone who supported our campaign on this.

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 planning to offer the covid vaccine to all adults in the UK. This does not currently include any children under 16. However, clinical trials are now being set up to start testing the vaccine effectiveness in children.

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 in 2020.

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).

Will children receive the covid vaccine?

Our panel of experts answer your questions on the covid vaccine. Hear from a lymphoma consultant and researcher, a professor in cancer immunology, a member of the JCVI, and a consultant microbiologist who is herself affected by blood cancer.

Watch the full session or use the playlist to listen to other questions and answers: The covid vaccine and blood cancer: your questions answered.

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. There are various hospitals across the UK recruiting patients for this trial - you could ask your hospital team if you are interested. Find out more from the UCLH research centre.

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 and Oxford-AstraZeneca 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've ever had breathing difficulties or a severe reaction to vaccine though. Here are the lists of Pfizer vaccine ingredients, AstraZeneca vaccine ingredients and Moderna vaccine ingredients.

This incident did show that side effect reporting and responding to safety data in real-time is working well.

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 support line on 0808 2080 888. 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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Will you support our work?

Coronavirus has led to a sudden drop in income, putting our dream of funding the research that beats blood cancer under threat. If you’re able to donate, we need your support now more than ever.

Make a donation

The following companies have provided funding for our coronavirus support, but have had no further input: AbbVie, AstraZeneca, Celgene, Gilead, Incyte, Kyowa Kirin, Novartis, Pfizer, Sanofi, Takeda.

We're here for you if you want to talk

0808 2080 888

[email protected]