COVID-19 is a serious disease, especially for people with cancer. Patients with cancer have a higher risk of serious COVID-19 disease if they get infected. Treatments for cancer may impact how well you can fight the disease if you are exposed to it. Winship Cancer Institute wants to do everything we can to keep you as healthy as possible, including helping you and your family get vaccinated against COVID-19.
The virus that causes COVID-19 is spread through airborne particles, such as when someone who has COVID-19 breathes out or coughs. Therefore, an additional way to protect patients with cancer is by making sure that all of their family members and close contacts are vaccinated against COVID-19. This helps protect those other family members so that they can continue to care for their loved ones, while also providing a bubble of protection from COVID-19 around the person with cancer.
Vaccination against COVID-19, along with consistent and correct mask wearing, provides a high level of protection from getting sick with COVID-19 or developing serious COVID-19 disease. In Georgia, vaccinated individuals in comparison to people who are not vaccinated have:
- 12 times lower risk of COVID-19 infections
- 17 times lower hospitalizations
- 19 times lower deaths
In the US, COVID-19 vaccines are available and recommended for people aged 12 years and older. There are COVID-19 vaccines available from three different manufacturers:
- Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine (Comirnaty), recommended for people 12 years and older, given in two shots three weeks apart
- Moderna, recommended for people 18 years and older, given in two shots four weeks apart
- Johnson & Johnson/Janssen, recommended for people 18 years and older, given in one shot
All three vaccines can be given to people with cancer and their family members and close contacts who are the right age. The only medical conditions that would keep someone from getting a COVID-19 vaccine are allergies to the vaccine or any of its ingredients.
Recently, the CDC updated their guidelines to include a third dose of either the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines for people with certain medical conditions or receiving treatment for cancer, including:
- Undergoing active treatment for solid tumor and hematologic cancers
- Receipt of CAR-T-cell or hematopoietic stem cell transplant within 2 years
- Active treatment with certain medications, including immunosuppressive drugs and some cancer chemotherapy drugs.
Patients with cancer should speak with their oncologist to determine if they should receive a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
All three COVID-19 vaccines went through extensive safety testing, during the clinical trials to determine whether the vaccines were effective. Researchers are continuing to study these vaccines as they are more widely used in the US. Overall, the vaccines are very safe, with the most common side effects being: pain where the shot was given, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, and fever. Most of these side effects last only about a day and are common after receiving vaccines.
Another way for patients with cancer to reduce their risk for developing a serious respiratory illness is for patients and their family members and close contacts to get a flu (influenza) shot every year. Getting an influenza vaccine helps to reduce the risk of getting seriously sick, being hospitalized, or dying from flu. This is particularly important for patients with cancer, who are at higher risk of complications if they get sick from flu. In addition, since both flu and COVID-19 are respiratory illnesses with some similar symptoms, vaccination against both illnesses can help reduce patients' and their loved ones' concerns if they experience flu-like symptoms.
For the latest information on Emory Healthcare's distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines or for general information about the vaccines, please visit Emory Healthcare's COVID-19 vaccines website.