COVID vaccine: Information for people on active cancer treatment
People with cancer* should get vaccinated against COVID-19 unless specifically advised otherwise by their medical team. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), the expert group that advises on vaccinations policy, recommends that people on active cancer treatment get vaccinated.
They also make recommendations about the timing of each dose of vaccine in relation to your cancer treatment. Most people in the UK are advised to have two primary doses of vaccine, followed by a booster (a minimum of 3 months later). People whose immune systems are particularly weak – including some people with cancer (specifically those on cancer treatments) – may be advised to have a third primary dose of vaccine (a minimum of 8 weeks after your second dose), followed by a booster (a minimum of 3 months after the third dose).
You will be told by your GP, the NHS Vaccination team or your specialist cancer team if you need a third primary dose. If you had two primary doses before starting immunosuppressive treatment, then you do not need a third primary dose but will still need a booster.
You may be approached about receiving a COVID vaccine at the same time as the flu vaccine. This is acceptable - flu and COVID vaccines are frequently given together.
Your specialist cancer team will be happy to discuss COVID-19 vaccination with you and answer any questions you may have.
If you are going to be receiving drug treatment or radiotherapy to the lung: Ideally you should begin getting vaccinated against COVID-19 before starting your treatment but your cancer treatment can begin while you are waiting for your second dose of vaccine.
Further information on COVID-19 vaccination is available in the Vaccination section of the NHS website.
*Excluding bone marrow/stem cell transplant patients (BMT patients). BMT patients should follow their own vaccination schedule as advised by their medical team.
About the vaccines
Three vaccines are currently approved for use and available to people in the UK: Pfizer BioNTech vaccine Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine Moderna vaccine
They are NOT live vaccines and cannot cause disease. That means they are safe for people undergoing cancer treatment and anyone with a weakened immune system.
It is possible that people with a weakened immune system may not develop as strong an immune response (immunity) when vaccinated but the potential benefits of being vaccinated are still significant.
Any of the vaccines may be used for your initial vaccination schedule (2 doses as standard, 3 if you are considered to be immunosuppressed). The booster (given 3 months after you have had your initial vaccination schedule) will either be the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccine unless you have an allergy to these vaccines.
If you are a patient who has an allergy to polyethylene glycol (PEG) then you should tell your vaccinator and will receive the AstraZeneca vaccine as a booster as well.
We would advise patients to get vaccinated unless advised otherwise by their medical team but:
- Not to get vaccinated on the same day as receiving most systemic anti-cancer therapy e.g. chemotherapy or immunotherapy. This does not apply to patients who are only having radiotherapy. People on daily tablet treatment can also be vaccinated the same day.
- Not to get vaccinated while being treated for an infection.
- Not to get vaccinated if feeling very unwell due to side-effects from systemic anti-cancer therapy.
- Not to get vaccinated in the week before planned surgery and to wait until fully recovered after being discharged.
- If you are on chemotherapy the recommended time to receive the vaccination is the week prior to your next dose of treatment (2-3 weeks after your last chemotherapy treatment)
For more information
If you have any further questions about COVID-19 vaccines in relation to your cancer treatment, speak to your clinical team. Please do not call our Patient Hotline as this blocks the line for people who need urgent medical advice. We have produced this guide with information about COVID, flu and pneumococcal vaccines if you are undergoing cancer treatment.
Further information is available via the following links: COVID-19 vaccine section of the NHS website Macmillan Cancer Support’s COVID vaccine section Cancer Research UK’s COVID vaccine section