Safety of COVID-19 vaccines for patients with cancer and cancer survivors

several laboratory vials labeled COVID-19 Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 Vaccine in a delivery box

As two new COVID-19 vaccines become more widely available, patients with cancer and cancer survivors may wonder if it’s safe to be vaccinated.

“Because cancer patients and survivors are at higher risk for severe effects from COVID-19 infection, we recommend they get vaccinated as soon as they can,” says Robert McWilliams, M.D., a medical oncologist at Mayo Clinic. “Patients who are immunosuppressed due to active cancer treatment may not get the same effective response as someone without immune compromise, but it should still be safe for them to receive the vaccine.”

There is no definitive data on the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna in patients with cancer or cancer survivors. “However, the few patients with cancer who were studied as part of the clinical trials leading to the approval of these vaccines did not experience any unique side effects,” says Joleen Hubbard, M.D., a medical oncologist at Mayo Clinic.

The good news for patients with cancer and cancer survivors is that the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are not live virus vaccines. That makes them less likely to cause side effects in immunosuppressed patients. “Both vaccines are mRNA (messenger RNA) vaccines, which means they teach our bodies how to make a protein that will trigger an immune response without the use of a live virus that causes COVID-19,” says Dr. Hubbard. “Once triggered by the protein, our immune system makes antibodies to protect us if we are exposed to the virus.”

Patients should discuss any concerns they have about being vaccinated for COVID-19 with their health care provider.

Read more COVID-19 vaccine guidance from Mayo Clinic.

Information in this post was accurate at the time of its posting. Due to the fluid nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientific understanding, along with guidelines and recommendations, may have changed since the original publication date

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