Cancer and COVID-19 Vaccines

Patients with cancer are at higher risk of complications from COVID-19. As a result, we encourage all of our patients, along with their caregivers and loved ones, to receive any one of the available COVID-19 vaccines.

Below we address several questions on the COVID-19 vaccines as they may affect patients with cancer.

Should patients with cancer get a COVID-19 vaccination?

Yes. Along with our colleagues at other top NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers across the nation, we recommend that cancer patients be vaccinated for COVID-19.

People with cancer and those undergoing cancer treatments may be at increased risk for the virus, and data demonstrates worse COVID outcomes for patients with cancer and for patients with a history of cancer. COVID's threat to the health and lives of cancer patients underscores the need for vaccination.

Cancer patients in active treatment should discuss the vaccine and the timing of inoculation with their oncologists. All other cancer patients can schedule a vaccine appointment wherever and whenever it is available to them, and there is no need to contact Winship for further guidance. In general, if patients can get the vaccine, they should. Any of the currently approved and available vaccines are appropriate for patients with cancer and their caregivers

We encourage all of our patients to receive the COVID-19 vaccination as they are now eligible in accordance with the Georgia Department of Public Health guidelines.

Our researchers and physicians will continue to review and evaluate the effectiveness of the vaccines, leading clinical trials on the outcomes for cancer patients who receive the vaccines and will share those updates with our patients and on our website.

Additionally, Winship was one of only five national cancer centers awarded a prestigious COVID-19 and Cancer Grant to study immune response for cancer patients after receiving any COVID-19 vaccine. Clinical trials in this study help us to understand how good and how long the response will last for patients with various types of cancer including lymphoma, lung cancer and multiple myeloma.

We are currently enrolling participants for the following clinical trial:

If you are planning to or have received any of the current available vaccines against COVID-19 and are interested in participating in one of these studies, please contact our Clinical Trials Office at (404) 778-1868 and a clinical trials coordinator will assist you.

Should patients with cancer receive a third dose?

On August 12, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized a third dose of COVID-19 vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna for people with compromised immune systems—who include many of our patients.

A third dose is recommended for patients who have received:

  • Active cancer treatment for tumors or cancers of the blood within the last year (We recommend not getting vaccinated while you are at your lowest blood counts after a cycle of chemotherapy. If you will finish active treatment in the next three months, discuss the timing of your third dose with your provider.)
  • A stem cell transplant within the last 2 years or are taking medicine to suppress the immune system
  • Active treatment with high-dose corticosteroids or other drugs that may suppress your immune response

If you fall into one of these categories, you will not need a prescription or the sign-off of a health care provider to prove you are immunocompromised and receive the additional dose.

You should receive the same type of vaccine as you originally received. The additional dose should be administered at least four weeks after completion of the first two vaccine doses.

We encourage you to receive the third dose in the community. Visit https://www.vaccines.gov to find a location offering the vaccine near you.

Should caregivers and those close to patients receive a COVID-19 vaccine?

Yes. 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. We also recommend caregivers and loved ones receive the current seasonal flu shot. 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.

What are the available vaccines?

In the US, there are COVID-19 vaccines available from three different manufacturers:

  • Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine (Comirnaty), recommended for people 5 years and older*, given in two shots three weeks apart (*As of November 4, 2021)
  • 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.

Information on the state's eligibility criteria and available vaccination locations in Georgia are available online.

For the most current information on Emory Healthcare's vaccine distribution, visit Emory Healthcare's COVID-19 website.

Is one COVID-19 vaccine more effective than the other?

Current data indicates that the vaccines are very similar in how effective and safe they are. They all prevent hospitalization and death from COVID infection, which is critically important. Because they weren’t studied head-to-head with each other or in trials done at the time/location, it is harder to compare their efficacy at preventing mild to moderate COVID infection, although they all performed well.

Winship medical oncologist Dr. Bradley Carthon discusses differences between the various COVID-19 vaccines available.

Why should patients with cancer and their caregivers remain vigilant even after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine?

Although recent CDC guidelines allow for fully vaccinated individuals to gather with family and friends under certain conditions, we advise patients with cancer and their caregivers to remain vigilant and not let their guard down. While the available COVID-19 vaccines provide a level of protection against a severe case of COVID-19 and possible hospitalization or death, there is still a possibility of getting the infection even if you've been fully vaccinated. Also, the vaccines may not be as protective or as long-lasting for cancer patients compared to other populations. Since cancer patients are at higher risk for complications related to COVID-19, we urge patients to exercise caution.

Will the COVID-19 vaccine affect my cancer treatment?

Currently, there is no data that would lead Winship cancer researchers and physicians to conclude that the COVID-19 vaccines affect cancer treatments. Moreover, we believe there is greater risks for worse COVID outcomes among cancer patients and for worse cancer outcomes for patients either exposed to the virus and thus quarantined and unable to receive their cancer treatments or for cancer patients who develop COVID and complications that necessitate the delay of cancer treatments.

Are COVID-19 vaccines safe for patients with cancer?

At this time, there is no data demonstrating patients with cancer are at any increased risk from the COVID-19 vaccines. While the vaccines might not work as well in cancer patients who have weakened or impaired immune systems, those patients would still benefit from the vaccine's protection, even if that protection is less for them than for patients with fully functioning immune systems.

Will the COVID-19 vaccine alter a cancer patient’s genetic code and interfere with gene-based therapies?

No. There is no evidence that the current two vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna – both of which use mRNA technology – impact or alter a patient's genetic code.

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.
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