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"My mum’s had the vaccine so why is she still shielding?"

Most people with blood cancer have had two covid vaccinations, along with a lot of the adult population. So why does it seem like nothing's changed? We consult our Support Service.

Your question:

Updated July 2021

My mum has a chronic blood cancer. She's been shielding for most of the pandemic and is still being super careful even though she’s had both her vaccinations. She’s generally pretty healthy and she’s only in her 50s. I thought the vaccine would change everything for her. How much longer does she need to stay at home? And will the booster jab make a difference?

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Our answer:

The vaccine roll-out certainly brings hope that fewer people will become seriously ill with coronavirus, but your mum is right to stay cautious for now.

People who have blood cancer, or have recently had treatment, tend to have an immune system that’s not as effective as it should be. That means they’re at higher risk of serious illness from coronavirus. It's why many people with blood cancer are considered clinically extremely vulnerable, and why they were advised to shield in the first part of the pandemic.

Covid vaccines are certainly helping the national situation. The problem is, the covid vaccines don't work as well in many people with blood cancer. This is because a damaged immune system finds it harder to respond to the vaccine and make covid antibodies. It's likely that the vaccine does offer some protection to people with blood cancer, but that the level of protection is lower than for other people.

Research suggests that having a second vaccination increases the effectiveness of the vaccine, but the current medical advice is that people with weak immune systems still need to take extra care. We need to learn more about how well the vaccine protects people with different blood cancers, and see infection rates in the community drop to the lowest levels, before people with blood cancer can stop taking extra precautions.

So it’s important for your mum to carry on being careful about how much contact she has with other people. Unfortunately, this is going to be the case until we know more about how well the vaccine works for her and others with blood cancer.

If you want to know more about how well the vaccine is working for people with blood cancer, you might want to read our information about how effective the vaccine is for people with blood cancer.

Vaccines for people living with your mum

Because we now know that the covid vaccines don't work fully in everyone with blood cancer, guidance has been updated to offer the covid vaccine to these groups:

  • children and young adults aged 12 to 17 who live with someone with immunosuppression
  • young adults who are turning 18 in the next 3 months.

There's evidence that the vaccine cuts down the chance of passing on coronavirus, so it will help your mum if those around her have the maximum level of protection.

Find out more about covid vaccines for household contacts aged over 12.

The booster jab

It's not confirmed yet, but the current advice is that people with blood cancer should be offered a third vaccination, a booster jab, in September. It's also been recommended that adult 'household contacts' of someone who is immunosuppressed (has blood cancer) should get the booster jab. Adult household contacts are anyone 18 or over who lives most of the time with someone who's immunosuppressed.

Research is looking at how effective the booster jab will be for people like your mum. We hope that it will offer more protection, but we don't yet how much.

If anyone in your mum's household is 18 or over, make sure they get their third booster dose of the vaccine when invited.

Find out more about covid vaccination and the booster jab.

Talking about risk

Have you talked to your mum about how she feels? And how you feel? Has she been given any specific advice by her medical team? Do you have different ideas about her level of risk, and if so, can you have a conversation about that?

To help with this, you might want to read our information on coping with risk and uncertainty as restrictions are lifted. This has some useful tips on making decisions about risk. Just remember that as well as being safe, your mum needs to feel safe too.

Emotional support

It’s a very difficult situation for everyone in your family and it’s completely understandable if you feel upset or frustrated. Would it help to talk to someone?

Remember that you or anyone in your family can call our Support Service free on 0808 2080 888, or email [email protected] if you need a listening ear.

Find out more about supporting someone with blood cancer. Here's our full list of questions on topics you may find helpful.

Dawn, support line worker

Worried about anything or have questions?

If you have any questions, worries, or just need someone to talk to, please don't hesitate to contact our Support Services Team via phone or email.

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