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Covid vaccine and blood cancer

We're here for you if you want to talk

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How to get a covid vaccine if you have blood cancer

How to get a covid vaccine if you have leukaemia, lymphoma, myeloma, MDS, MPN, or any other blood cancer.

Page reviewed 28 February 2021

Useful links for booking your vaccine

If you are in a group that's currently eligible to book their vaccine (see below), this is how you can book:

Getting a covid vaccine if you have blood cancer (priority group 4) (clinically extremely vulnerable)

Updated 15 February 2021

People who currently have any type of blood cancer are clinically extremely vulnerable and should be on the shielding list. This means you are in priority group 4 for the vaccine. You should have been invited for your vaccine by 15 February, in all countries of the UK.

If you haven't been contacted yet, you should now contact your GP urgently to make sure you're on the shielding list, and use the links/numbers above to book yourself a vaccine.

Being on the shielding list is important not just for getting your vaccine now, but in case the same priority list is used for future covid vaccines.

If you have received letters about shielding during the pandemic, then you are on the shielding list and should have been invited for the vaccine.

If you are not on the shielding list but think you should be, or if you aren't sure:

  • Step 1 - Know whether you should be on the shielding list - your hospital team can tell you this, or read our information below on who is clinically extremely vulnerable.
  • Step 2 - Check if you are on the shielding list - speak to your GP or hospital team - either of these can tell you.
  • Step 3 - Ask to be added to the shielding list if necessary - both GPs and hospital teams can and should add people to the shielding list - see below for guidance aimed at healthcare professionals on 'How to add patients to the Shielded Patients List'.
  • Step 4 - Share this web page with your GP or hospital team - it explains why you should be on the shielding list, and it tells GPs and hospital teams how to add you to the list.

If you have an MPN

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

Getting a covid vaccine if you are in priority group 5 (over-65s) or priority group 6 (clinically vulnerable and unpaid carers)

Updated 15 February 2021

After people who are clinically extremely vulnerable (priority group 4 for the vaccine), the next groups to be vaccinated are groups 5 and 6. You will be contacted by either the NHS or your GP to invite you to book your vaccine appointment. You may also be able to use the links given at the top of this page to book your own vaccine.

Group 5 are the over-65s.

Group 6 are the over-16s who are clinically vulnerable (have an underlying health condition, but aren't clinically extremely vulnerable)*, and unpaid carers**.

If you currently have any type of blood cancer, you should be in group 4 (see above).

*People aged 16 to 64 years with underlying health conditions

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'.

We have more information below 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

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 gets 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.

You need to 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 soon need to self-refer for the vaccine in March – further information on this will be available in Scotland shortly. Find out more from the National Carer Organisations in Scotland and NHS Inform.

When will groups 5 and 6 get the vaccine?

Updated 15 February 2021

People in groups 5 and 6 will be contacted by either the NHS or their GP to book their vaccine appointment in the next few weeks across the UK:

  • In England, the vaccine roll-out is now officially expanded to priority groups 5 and 6, so you will soon be invited for your vaccine.
  • In Scotland, group 5 (over-65s) are already receiving their invites, and group 6 should start to receive invites towards the end of February.
  • In Wales, group 5 (over-65s) and group 6 are expected to receive their invites in the next few weeks.
  • In Northern Ireland, group 5 (over-65s) have been able to book their vaccine since the end of January, and group 6 will be next to be invited.

You can use the links/numbers at the top of this page to book your covid vaccine if it's your turn.

Which blood cancer patients are clinically extremely vulnerable? (priority group 4)

Blood cancer affects the immune system, and so do its treatments.

Adults with blood cancer may have a compromised immune system and therefore be at high risk of serious illness from coronavirus.

Even people who are not on treatment (for example, those on ‘watch and wait’) may have compromised immune systems due to the cancer itself.

Since the start of the pandemic, we have learned more about how coronavirus affects different people, and it is clear that people with blood cancer have a higher chance of getting seriously ill from coronavirus and of dying with it. A recent meta-analysis of studies found that 34% of people with blood cancer in hospital with coronavirus died.

It is crucial that people with blood cancer who are clinically extremely vulnerable are on the Shielded Patients List so they are invited for their vaccine at the appropriate time.

Being on the Shielded Patients List also means people will receive relevant letters from the Department of Health & Social Care. In some areas where the risk is very high, the government are advising this group not to go out to work, and these letters provide evidence to people’s employers and enable them to access sick pay and other government support.

The government automatically includes adults with blood cancer in the clinically extremely vulnerable group if they:

*If your transplant was more than 6 months ago, the government automatically classes you as vulnerable (not extremely vulnerable). But – your doctor can choose to move you to the extremely vulnerable group. We have more information and sources to help you talk to your doctor about which group you are in.

In England, the Clinical Director for Cancer (Peter Johnson) sent a letter to all cancer teams, with added clarification that the high-risk criteria includes blood cancer patients:

  • before, during or after treatment, including those being managed expectantly (on watch and wait)

How to add patients to the Shielded Patients List

GPs and hospital teams can and should add patients to the Shielded Patients List. There is guidance on how to do this across the UK here:

England

Scotland

Wales

  • You can find a list of patients who are on the shielding list through the Primary Care Portal.
  • To add a patient to the shielding list, add the code ‘65Z.. Infectious disease prevention/control NOS’ to their patient record.
  • For hospitals – tell your Health Board’s Information Department, who have access to the shielding list and who regularly submit new additions for the shielding list to the NHS Wales Informatics Service.

Northern Ireland

  • Use the Primary Care intranet site for guidance and searches you can run on EMIS and Vision to manage high-risk patients.

If GP’s are unsure about a patient’s condition, they should speak with their specialist treating team (eg haematology).

The RCGP has guidance on how to flag patients as clinically extremely vulnerable.

In England, the Medical Director for Primary Care (Dr Nikita Kanani) sent a letter to all GP practices on 2 November, requesting them to continue flagging high-risk patients and adding them to the Shielded Patients List.

During the first period of shielding in the UK, many blood cancer patients did not receive their shielding letters for weeks, some not for months. It is crucial this does not happen again, as these letters provide evidence to employers that people should be off work as per government advice.

Being on the Shielded Patients List is now crucial for blood cancer patients, to ensure they are invited for their covid vaccine.

Chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) and Myeloproliferative neoplasms (polycythaemia vera, essential thrombocythaemia, myelofibrosis)

There has been some uncertainty about how high-risk CML and MPN patients are. The NHS at a national level does include all CML and MPN patients in the clinically extremely vulnerable category.

Now that we know how high-risk blood cancer patients are from coronavirus, it is crucial that all blood cancer patients, including CML and MPN patients, are added to the Shielded Patients List (listed as clinically extremely vulnerable) and invited for their covid vaccine as part of priority group 4.

A recent meta-analysis of studies found that 34% of people with MPNs and CML in hospital with coronavirus died.

GPs can and should add their CML and MPN patients to the Shielded Patients List. This could be important for the future, for example for future covid vaccine roll-outs, or government support for those shielding.

MPN Voice has this statement on its website, clarifying that MPN patients should be offered the vaccine.

The International Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia Foundation (iCMLf) has this statement on its website, clarifying that CML patients should be offered the vaccine.

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

Are people in remission from blood cancer clinically extremely vulnerable?

Patients in remission from myeloma could still have a compromised immune system and are included in the criteria as someone who "currently has any type of blood cancer”. They should be on the Shielded Patient List.

Patients in remission with a chronic blood cancer could still have a compromised immune system and are included in the criteria above as someone who "currently has any type of blood cancer”. They should be on the Shielded Patient List unless their specialist doctor advises otherwise.

Patients in remission from any other blood cancer: The length of time it takes for the immune system to recover after cancer and its treatment varies depending on the type of cancer, the treatment given and the person as an individual. There is no specific time frame. Generally, it takes a few months to a year to recover. Many people’s immune systems recover to a normal level after treatment. However, some patients experience ongoing issues with being more prone to infections and getting more severe infections. It’s important to discuss this with patients and their specialist blood cancer teams, to agree whether they would benefit from being on the Shielded Patients List. Even if they are not on the shielding list, they may still be 'clinically vulnerable' (rather than clinically extremely vulnerable) and should therefore be included in priority group 6 for the covid vaccine.

Patients who finished chemotherapy in the last 3 months: These patients may still have a compromised immune system. This should be discussed with the patient’s specialist blood cancer team.

Patients who've had a stem cell transplant: If the transplant was in the last 6 months, they are automatically classed as clinically extremely vulnerable and should be on the Shielded Patient List. If the transplant was over 6 months ago, the government guidance automatically classes them as vulnerable (not extremely vulnerable). But – their doctor can choose to move them to the extremely vulnerable group if they feel this is best. We have more information and sources about how long people may be extremely vulnerable for after a transplant.

Support for GPs

If you have any patients affected by blood cancer, you can signpost them to Blood Cancer UK for support and information.

We are also very happy to speak to GPs and other healthcare professionals if helpful - contact us for information about blood cancer and coronavirus.

Our support line offers emotional and practical support. It is free to call on 0808 2080 888 (Mon-Fri, 10am-7pm, Sat-Sun, 10am-1pm) or email [email protected]

Our website has up-to-date information about blood cancer, coronavirus, and living with blood cancer.

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Support our campaign to get all household members vaccinated

We're calling on the Government to protect people with blood cancer by prioritising the vaccine for adults who live in the same household. It only takes a few minutes to contact your local MP, and your action could save lives.

Contact your MP

How will I be invited for a covid vaccine?

Updated 15 February 2021

People who currently have any type of blood cancer are clinically extremely vulnerable and should be on the shielding list. This means you are in priority group 4 for the vaccine. You should have been invited for your vaccine by 15 February, in all countries of the UK. If you haven't been contacted yet, you should now contact your GP urgently, or use the links/numbers at the top of this web page to book yourself a vaccine.

Other people who had blood cancer in the past may be invited for the vaccine as part of priority group 6 (see above), including people who've had stem cell transplants, or have a compromised immune system. You will be contacted by either the NHS or your GP to invite you to book your vaccine appointment in the coming weeks.

There are useful links and numbers at the top of this web page, where you can book your vaccine if you are in a group that's currently eligible to book.

Where can I have the covid vaccine safely?

The covid vaccine will be rolled out at hospital hubs, local community services (like GP surgeries), and vaccination centres (like conference centres and sports stadiums).

Any setting administering the vaccine will follow strict guidelines to ensure this is a COVID-safe environment for clinically extremely vulnerable people to visit.

GPs and any other settings delivering coronavirus vaccines have been given strict guidelines and instructions on things like:

  • storage and handling of the vaccine
  • training of healthcare providers who will administer the vaccine
  • ensuring a COVID-safe environment
  • managing side effects and any reactions
  • monitoring patients when they have the vaccine and for 15 minutes afterwards.

They have also had their site inspected to ensure they are ready for the roll-out.

What are the side effects of the covid vaccine?

Like all vaccines, the Pfizer, AstraZeneca/Oxford and Moderna covid vaccines can cause side effects, although not everybody gets them.

Pfizer vaccine side effects

Most side effects are mild or moderate and go away within a few days.

Common side effects include pain, swelling or redness at the injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain, fever and nausea (feeling sick).

Here is the full list of reported side effects, including less common ones: Pfizer vaccine side effects.

AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine side effects

Most side effects are mild or moderate and go away within a few days, with some still present a week after vaccination.

Common side effects include tenderness, pain, warmth, redness, itching, swelling, bruising or a lump where the injection is given, generally feeling unwell, feeling tired (fatigue), chills or feeling feverish, fever, headache, feeling sick (nausea), being sick (vomiting), joint pain or muscle ache, and flu-like symptoms, such as high temperature, sore throat, runny nose, cough and chills.

Here is the full list of reported side effects, including less common ones: AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine side effects.

Moderna vaccine side effects

Most side effects go away within a few days of appearing.

Common side effects include tenderness and swelling of the underarm glands on the same side as the injection site, pain or swelling at the injection site, headache, nausea (feeling sick), vomiting, muscle ache, joint aches, stiffness, feeling very tired, chills and fever.

Here is the full list of reported side effects, including less common ones: Moderna vaccine side effects.

Healthcare workers who administer the vaccine can tell you about any side effects and are trained in what to watch out for. You will also be asked to wait for 15 minutes after your injection to make sure you are OK before you leave.

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.

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]