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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 cancer treatment

Covid vaccine and cancer treatment information for people with leukaemia, lymphoma, myeloma, MDS, MPN, or any other blood cancer. This page is about having the covid vaccine if you're on cancer treatment, are immunocompromised, or have had a stem cell transplant.

Page reviewed 16 July 2021

Can I have the covid vaccine while on cancer treatment?

Yes you can. It’s important to protect yourself from coronavirus. But your immune system needs to be working at some level in order to respond to the vaccine. If your cancer treatment is affecting your immune system, your healthcare team will advise you on the best time to get your covid vaccine – there may be points during your treatment when the vaccine is likely to be most effective for you. Even if your immune system is not functioning fully at this point, the coronavirus vaccine is still likely to offer some protection, and it’s still advisable to have it. This is the case for all types of blood cancer and treatment, with just a few exceptions related to stem cell transplants - see below.

Could my treatment affect how the vaccine works?

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.

Which covid vaccines are suitable for people who are immunocompromised?

The Pfizer, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines are all considered to be safe in people with compromised immune systems.

One of the main things that can make a vaccine unsuitable for people with blood cancer is if it is a ‘live’ vaccine. None of the approved covid vaccines are live vaccines.

Although the immune system’s response to the vaccine might not be as strong in someone with blood cancer (if the immune system is impaired) the vaccine is still likely to offer some protection, and it's advisable to have it. This is the case for all types of blood cancer and treatment, with just a few exceptions related to stem cell transplants - see below.

None of the approved covid vaccines in the UK are "live" vaccines

There has been some confusion about whether any of the covid vaccines approved in the UK, particularly the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, are "live" vaccines. They are not.

The confusion around the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has arisen because unlike the mRNA vaccines, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is made from a genetically modified virus that causes the common cold in monkeys. However, the parts of the virus that allow it to infect and cause disease have been removed. So although this vaccine uses the genetics of a virus to work, it cannot cause disease and it is not a live vaccine.

What to check with your healthcare team

If any of the following apply to you, you can still have the coronavirus vaccine, but you should talk to your healthcare team first:

  • you have a weakened immune system, or are on a medicine that affects your immune system
  • you have a problem with bruising or bleeding, or you use a blood thinning medicine (anticoagulant) or medicine to stop blood clotting.

More about safety and effectiveness in people with blood cancer

If I’ve had a stem cell transplant, can I have the covid vaccine?

The Pfizer, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines are all suitable for people who’ve had a stem cell transplant, and it’s important to protect yourself from coronavirus wherever possible. The vaccines are also suitable for people who are going to have a transplant.

If you have a vaccine before your transplant, then you will need to have another one afterwards, as your immune system will have been replaced.

Experts currently think that if you've had an autologous transplant (using your own stem cells) then you should be able to have the covid vaccine from two months after the transplant. If you've had an allogeneic transplant (using donor stem cells) then you should be able to have the vaccine from 3 to 6 months after the transplant. Your treatment team will advise you on the most suitable time for you to have the covid vaccine, to give you the best protection.

People with Graft versus Host Disease (GvHD), people receiving high dose steroids, and people taking immunosuppressant drugs may be advised to wait a bit longer before being vaccinated, as these people will still have suppressed immune systems. Your treatment team can tell you when they think is the best time to give you the vaccine.

Even once you’ve had the covid vaccine, it will be very important to still take precautions as at this stage, as we’re unsure about the level of protection people who’ve had a stem cell transplant will get from the vaccine.

Anthony Nolan have more information about coronavirus and your stem cell transplant.

We don’t yet know if children who’ve had a stem cell transplant will receive a vaccine but we will continue to monitor this. You can find out more information on coronavirus and children with cancer from the Children's Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG).

What priority group am I in for the vaccine, if I've had a stem cell transplant?

The guidance about who should be classed as clinically extremely vulnerable after a transplant has not always been consistent throughout the pandemic. Currently:

I am having or have had a stem cell transplant - when should I get 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.

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.

Thank you to Anthony Nolan for supporting us with information about stem cell transplants and the covid vaccine.

We're here for you if you want to talk

0808 2080 888

[email protected]