Cancer and the coronavirus vaccine

We know that the coronavirus (COVID-19) is affecting everyone’s life dramatically. But for people with cancer and their friends and families, the pandemic may create even more concerns. This blog is the first in a short series about cancer and the coronavirus from Macmillan’s Cancer Information Development Team. This blog is about cancer and the coronavirus vaccines.

There has been a lot of information in the news about coronavirus vaccines. News and information about vaccines is frequently changing. Some vaccines are already available, and new ones are being developed in clinical trials. We understand that this means people with cancer may have a lot of questions.

For the latest information from Macmillan about coronavirus and the vaccine, visit this page.

Coronavirus and cancer treatment

Many people who are having cancer treatment are worried about the impact of coronavirus. We answer some common questions below, and we have more information on our website. If you have any concerns about your cancer treatment and the coronavirus vaccines, you should also discuss these with your healthcare team.

COVID-19 vaccines

There are three approved vaccines in the UK - two of these are available and already being given to people. The third one will be available in the spring. Others are still being developed in clinical trials. The vaccines that are currently available can be given to people who are having cancer treatment.

When will I get the vaccine?

The decision about who gets the vaccine and when will follow advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). You can read more about this here.

The NHS has already started to give vaccines to people. You will be contacted by the NHS for your vaccine appointment. We recommend you have a vaccination when it is offered. You should continue to follow government guidance on keeping safe.

Can I have the vaccine if I’m having chemotherapy?

Some treatments, like chemotherapy, can lower your immunity. This can make some ‘live’ vaccines unsuitable. The current coronavirus vaccines are not ‘live’, so yes – they can be given if you are having chemotherapy.

Can I have the vaccine if I’m having other treatments?

  • Radiotherapy – the COVID-19 vaccine can be given to people having radiotherapy. If you’re having radiotherapy for breast cancer, you may find the following video useful:

  • Hormonal therapies – the COVID-19 vaccine can be given to people having this type of treatment. This includes people with breast or prostate cancer.
  • Immunotherapies – the COVID-19 vaccine can be given to people having this treatment.
  • Targeted therapies – the COVID-19 vaccine can also be given to people having targeted therapies. This includes people having antibody treatments.
  • Stem cell transplants – talk to your healthcare team about the best time for you to have the vaccine.

Does the vaccine work?

Any vaccine that has been approved is effective. Vaccines save lives and reduce hospitalisations from coronavirus.

The current vaccines are given as two injections. A single dose offers considerable protection, at least in the short term. But the second dose is important for longer term protection.

The current advice is that:

  • the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine can be given between 3 to 12 weeks after the first
  • the second dose of the AstraZeneca (Oxford) vaccine can be given between 4 and 12 weeks after the first.

We don’t yet know how long people who are vaccinated will be protected from coronavirus or if it prevents transmission. So it’s important to keep following government guidance in your area.

Who can I talk to if I’m worried?

You may find it helpful to talk to your cancer healthcare team who can answer any questions you might have about getting vaccinated.

If something is worrying you and you need to talk, we're here to listen. From questions about coronavirus or cancer treatment, to worries about work and money.

To speak to our experts, you can:

Find out more about the Macmillan teams that are here to support you.

We have more information about coronavirus if you have cancer and information for people who have had cancer in the past and are worried about their risk.

To see what else Macmillan's cancer information team has been blogging about, please visit our blog home page! You can subscribe to receive our blogs by email or RSS too.

We're with you every step of the way

The Macmillan team is here to help. Our cancer support specialists can answer your questions, offer support, or simply listen if you need a chat. Call us free on 0808 808 00 00.

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  • Hi. Great post Thumbsup tone2 I had my first (Pfizer) vaccine on the 6th Feb 21. Had a sore arm for 2 days but otherwise have been ok. I was worried at first but you are told to wait 15mins after you are vaccinated just incase anything happens & You are also given your second appointment before you leave, so you can return at same venue. 

  • Hi ,

    Thank you for sharing your experience of getting your vaccine. We are glad to hear that it went well. We have further information about the vaccine on our website.

    Remember we’re here if you need us. You can call 0808 808 00 00 if you have any questions, between 8am and 8pm. Or to talk to a cancer information nurse specialist on our online chat, go to ‘Ask an expert’, which you can find at the top of the Online Community web page.