COVID-19 vaccine: What cancer patients must know


Cancer patients are among those next in line to receive scarce COVID-19 vaccines but they are being warned to consult their doctor first.

Cancer Australia has today issued vaccination guidelines for cancer patients including a detailed Question and Answer publication to help them make the decision about whether to have the jab.

People with cancer are more vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 and are at an increased risk of more severe infection which is why the government's expert advisers have advised they get priority access to the vaccines.

Once aged care residents, frontline health and quarantine staff are all immunised cancer patients and the elderly are expected to begin receiving the vaccine later this month.

Cancer Australia CEO Professor Dorothy Keefe said the decision about whether to receive a COVID-19 vaccine should be made on an individual basis by the person affected by cancer, in consultation with their healthcare team.


Professor Dorothy Keefe. Picture: Supplied
Professor Dorothy Keefe. Picture: Supplied


"While providing the vaccine to cancer patients and their carers will reduce risk of infection or serious disease with COVID-19, patients with cancer should continue practices of social distancing, and maintaining good hand hygiene even after vaccination," she said.

The guide says the type of cancer a patient has, the type of treatment they are receiving, the timing of their treatment, the type of vaccine available and the state of their immune system will determine whether vaccination is right for them.

"Some cancer treatments (like chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or immunotherapy) can affect the immune system, which might make the vaccine less effective in some people," the guide warns.

There are some theoretical risks of immune-related side effects for COVID-19 vaccination for people receiving immunotherapy treatments like Pembrolizumab, Nivolumab and Ipilimumab, the guide states.

However, international cancer organisations and Australian experts recommend vaccination after weighing the benefit of vaccination against risk for patients using these therapies the guidelines say.

Patients who have had stem cell transplant or CAR T-cell therapy might need to wait 3-6 months after their treatment before receiving the vaccine, the guide said.



People affected by cancer can mount a protective immune response from flu vaccinations and vaccinations against other types of disease which is a good sign they will respond to the COVID vaccines.

And there is no evidence to suggest that people affected by cancer will experience different or worse side effects to the COVID-19 vaccines, the guide said.

Cancer patients with lymphoedema, a swelling of a part of the body that is a common side effect of cancer treatment may need to be vaccinated in an alternative site, Cancer Australia said.

"Vaccination into these areas may therefore result in a weaker immune response and less protection from COVID-19," the guide said.


Originally published as COVID-19 vaccine: What cancer patients must know