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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.

Page updated 1 September 2021

This page is about which vaccines are available, who can get them and whether they’re safe for people with blood cancer.

We have other information about:

Recently diagnosed with blood cancer?

If you have been diagnosed with blood cancer, order our free booklet 'Your blood cancer diagnosis - what happens now?' It tells you the key things to know about blood cancer, including tips from other people who've been diagnosed.

Covid vaccines: quick recap

There are now three coronavirus vaccines currently approved and being rolled out in the UK: Pfizer-BioNTech, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Moderna. The Janssen vaccine has been approved for use in the UK but will not be available until later this year.

  • 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. Public Health England has advised a preference for people aged 18 to 39 to have an alternative vaccine if there's one available and it doesn't delay vaccination. This is because of an extremely small risk of blood clots and low platelets in younger people following the first dose of the vaccine.
  • 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 (existing health conditions) 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 is not a live vaccine.
  • It has been approved by the MHRA and and is already being given to people in the UK.
  • It can be used for 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.
  • This is a viral vector vaccine like the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. It is not a live vaccine.
  • This single shot vaccine was found to be 67% effective in its Phase 3 trial. Phase 3 is the final phase of a clinical trial.
  • It has been approved by the MHRA for people aged 18 and over, but won't be available until later this year.
  • Unlike other vaccines currently approved in the UK, this one only requires one injection rather than two.
  • The UK has ordered 20 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.
  • 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.

Who can get the covid vaccine?

People with blood cancer are at a higher risk of getting seriously ill with coronavirus. You should be prioritised for covid vaccination if you are aged 12 or over and any of these apply:

  • you have any type of blood cancer, whether you are on treatment or not (this includes leukaemia, lymphoma, myeloma, MDS, MPN)
  • you have a compromised immune system as a result of blood cancer in the past (immunosuppression)
  • you had a stem cell transplant in the past (as you might still have immunosuppression)
  • you have any other underlying condition that means you're classed as 'clinically vulnerable' or 'clinically extremely vulnerable'
  • you are an unpaid carer for someone with blood cancer
  • you are a household contact of someone who is immunosuppressed (if you live with someone who has, or had, blood cancer).

If any of these apply to you, find out more on our page about how to get the covid vaccine.

How to get a covid vaccine if you have blood cancer or live with someone who does

Adults and children aged 12 or over can get the covid vaccine if they have blood cancer, or live with someone who does. We have a separate page about how to get a covid vaccine. It covers how to book your vaccinations and what to do if you have any problems booking your appointments.

Third vaccine dose this autumn

A third dose of the covid vaccine is being offered to people with blood cancer this autumn. Find out more about why people with blood cancer should have a third dose and how to get one.

Will the covid vaccines work for people with blood cancer?

Research so far suggests that the covid vaccines may not work for everyone with blood cancer. Find out more about covid vaccine effectiveness in people with blood cancer.

The vaccine can still offer a level of protection however, and some protection is better than none. If you have blood cancer, it's important to get all the protection you can and have your covid vaccines, including a third dose if you've already had two.

There are also antibody treatments being looked at, which could protect people with blood cancer against covid if their vaccine doesn't work. Find out more about antibody treatments for people with blood cancer.

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

The vaccines currently in use in the UK (Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Moderna) are considered safe for people with blood cancer and the rest of the population. Most people with blood cancer in the UK have now had their covid vaccine and no serious safety concerns have arisen, although this is constantly monitored.

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

Although the Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna covid vaccines were not tested in people with blood cancer in the original trials, there are several reasons why we (and clinical experts) are confident these vaccines are 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 judgments 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.

As with any medicine, side effects can happen, but the approval and quality testing processes for the covid vaccines mean that serious side effects are rare.

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?

Now that research is being done into covid vaccine effectiveness in people with blood cancer, we are starting to see that there are no real differences between the different types of vaccine available. Find out more about covid vaccine effectiveness in people with blood cancer.

Can my family have the covid vaccine?

If your family members are classed as unpaid carers or household contacts then they should be prioritised for covid vaccination. We hope this also means they'll be included in any future booster vaccination programme.

Children aged 12 to 17 who are household contacts of someone with blood cancer can now get the vaccine too. See our page about how to get your covid vaccine.

Covid vaccine for children with blood cancer

At the moment, no vaccine is approved in the UK for children aged under 12, but children aged 12 to 17 who are immunosuppressed can have the Pfizer vaccine. This includes children with blood cancer. Read more about covid vaccines for children.

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. Find out more about antibody treatments to protect people with blood cancer from covid.

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:

  • 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 previous vaccines 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.

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]