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COVID-19 Vaccine for Childhood Cancer Patients and Caregivers

Should childhood cancer patients and their caregivers get the COVID-19 vaccine?

The answer: Yes, COVID-19 vaccines are safe and recommended for all people aged 12 years of age or older, especially for those with underlying medical problems such as cancer, and their household contacts. Everyone 12 years old and older is now eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccination.

Because patients with cancer may not respond as well to the vaccine, caregivers of persons with weakened immune systems should get a COVID-19 vaccine to protect them.

No vaccine has been authorized yet for people younger than 12.

You can talk with your child’s pediatric oncologist if you have questions.

  • The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is approved by the FDA for people ages 16 and older. It is authorized for use in people ages 12-15.

Where Can Cancer Patients and Caregivers Get the COVID-19 Vaccine?

Patients and caregivers may be able to get the vaccine at their treatment center. If not, there are likely several locations in their community. The patient’s care team can provide guidance. The national VaccineFinder website might be a good resource to find vaccine locations in your area.

When Is a Person Considered “Fully Vaccinated?”

People are considered fully vaccinated 2 weeks or more after they have received the second dose of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine or 2 weeks after they have received 1 dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

For vaccines with two doses: the first dose primes the immune system to defend against COVID-19, and the second dose boosts the effect so that you have a stronger and longer response for full protection.

For vaccines with two doses: the first dose primes the immune system to defend against COVID-19, and the second dose boosts the effect so that you have a stronger and longer response for full protection.

Do Childhood Cancer Patients Still Have to Follow Precautions Such as Wearing a Face Mask After Being Fully Vaccinated?

Childhood and adolescent cancer patients are considered high risk. They must not receive visits from their fully vaccinated grandparents (or others) without using a mask and keeping a physical distance of 6 feet or more.

Find more information about CDC recommendations for fully vaccinated people in non-health care settings.

What Is a COVID-19 Vaccine?

A COVID-19 vaccine works to activate the immune system to protect against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. You get the vaccine as an injection (shot) in the upper arm.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is approved by the FDA for people ages 16 and older. It is authorized for use in people ages 12-15.

Two COVID-19 vaccines are authorized for use in the United States:

  • The Moderna vaccine is available for adults 18 and older. This vaccine requires 2 doses given 28 days apart.
  • The Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccine is available for adults 18 and older. This vaccine requires 1 dose.

COVID-19 Vaccine Third Dose vs. Booster

The third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine helps those with vulnerable immune systems who may not have built up enough immunity from the first two doses of Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna.

The booster shot is for those who are at high-risk of severe COVID-19, or those whose daily job puts them at high risk of serious complications of COVID-19 including severe COVID-19, such as frontline workers, who may have experienced a decrease in immunity over time.

It is currently only available for those who had the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

How Do COVID-19 Vaccines Work?

A COVID-19 vaccine uses the body’s immune system to fight the coronavirus. The immune system is a network of special cells, tissues, and organs that protect the body from germs. A vaccine helps your body develop immune responses to fight off infection without having to get sick first. When you get an infection, the immune system “remembers” that specific germ and is ready to defend against it the next time.

Some COVID-19 vaccines use mRNA to teach your body how to fight the SARS-CoV-2 virus. mRNA is a genetic code that has instructions for the spoke protein of the coronavirus.
The vaccine enters some of your cells. Inside your cell are structures called ribosomes. They work like little factories to take the instructions from the mRNA and make the spike protein.
The immune system see the spike protein on the cell and makes antibodies to fight it. It takes about 10-14 days following dose 2 to build up maximum immunity against COVID-19.
If you are exposed to the coronavirus after receiving full vaccine, the immune system will "remember" the spike protein. You will already have the antibodies ready to quickly fight infection and keep you from getting sick.

Are COVID-19 Vaccines Safe?

A vaccine must meet strict safety standards before it is available for use. After a vaccine is authorized, scientists will continue to study the COVID-19 vaccines to make sure that they are as safe and effective as possible.

Some people may have mild side effects after a COVID-19 vaccine. These are temporary symptoms that occur as your body begins making antibodies. They are part of a normal immune response.

Possible side effects include:

  • Redness, soreness, or swelling where you got the shot
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Muscle or joint pain

Some people may have more noticeable symptoms after the second vaccine dose. Side effects from the vaccine should go away within a couple of days. Most people can continue their daily activities. Ibuprofen (Advil®) or acetaminophen (Tylenol®) may help relieve some of the symptoms.

Less common side effects, including severe allergic reactions, myocarditis, and pericarditis have occurred after the COVID-19 vaccine. It’s important to remember that these events are very rare.

It’s also important to remember that myocarditis is more common after a COVID-19 infection than a vaccine. Here’s a look at what current research shows:

  • Patients with COVID-19 have 16 times the risk for myocarditis than those who did not have it.
  • The risk of myocarditis after a COVID-19 infection is 6 to 34 times higher than the risk of those who received one of the mRNA vaccines (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna).
  • Those who did develop myocarditis after taking a vaccine were hospitalized for a shorter time and experienced a quick clinical recovery.

Tell your vaccine provider if you have a history of allergic reactions or have an allergy to any vaccine ingredient.

Find information on vaccine ingredients from the CDC.

 

Note about Johnson & Johnson vaccine

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended that use of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 Vaccine resume in the United States on April 23, 2021. However, women younger than 50 years old should be aware of the rare risk of blood clots with low platelets after vaccination, and that other COVID-19 vaccines are available where this risk has not been seen. If you received a Johnson & Johnson vaccine, here is what you need to know.

 

How Well Do COVID-19 Vaccines Work?

Based on the available research, COVID-19 vaccines work extremely well to protect against illness. The vaccines appear to be 90-95% effective for the time studied. It is very important to get the full course of the vaccine (usually 2 doses) for the best protection. Because COVID-19 vaccines are new, we don’t know how long the protection lasts. Researchers are continuing to study long-term immunity in clinical trials.

Even after you get a COVID-19 vaccine, it is important to take steps to protect yourself and others:

  • Wear a mask
  • Keep a physical distance
  • Wash your hands
  • Monitor for symptoms

Key Points

  • COVID-19 vaccines are available for everyone over age 12. They are safe and effective.
  • You are fully vaccinated 2 weeks after your single dose of Johnson & Johnson or your second dose of Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna.
  • Depending on your situation, you may be eligible for a third dose of Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna or a Pfizer-BioNTech booster. Ask your doctor.
  • Side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine are rare. And the vaccine is much safer than a COVID-19 infection.
  • You should take steps like wearing a mask, washing your hands, and physical distancing even after you are vaccinated.

Learn More About COVID-19 Vaccines


Reviewed: October 2021