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

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

The answer: It depends.

Your child’s pediatric oncologist will let you know if and when your child should get the vaccine. COVID-19 vaccines are given in phases to make sure that people at higher risk can get the vaccine first. In many places, the COVID-19 vaccine is now available for people 16 and older.

No vaccine has been authorized yet for people younger than 16.

For family caregivers, the priority list for vaccinations varies by state. But family caregivers of cancer patients are usually in higher priority groups. Check with your child’s treatment center or your state health department for more information.

In general:

  • You must be 16 or older. Two of the 3 authorized COVID-19 vaccines — Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — are for people 18 and older. The one other authorized COVID-19 vaccine — Pfizer-BioNTech — is for those 16 and older.
  • You must be eligible. Each state has its own vaccine plan.

Learn more about vaccine phases from the CDC.

Note about Johnson & Johnson vaccine

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have recommended a pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the United States out of an abundance of caution, effective Tuesday, April 13. The CDC and FDA are reviewing data involving six reported U.S. cases of a very rare and severe type of blood clot called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis. The six reported cases are out of over 6.8 million doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine given in the U.S. to date. People who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine within the past 3 weeks who develop severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath should contact their health care provider. For more information, visit the CDC and FDA joint statement. This safety pause is only for the J & J vaccine and not for the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines.


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

When it’s time, 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 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?

Yes. CDC recommendations do not apply to health care settings, such as hospitals and clinics. They apply to the general public in non-health care settings.

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.

Three types of COVID-19 vaccines are now authorized for use in the United States:

  • The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is available for people ages 16 and older. This vaccine requires 2 doses given 21 days apart.
  • 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.

Find more information on COVID-19 vaccines from the CDC.

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, have occurred after the COVID-19 vaccine. However, these events are rare. 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.

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, and monitor for symptoms.

Learn More About COVID-19 Vaccines

Reviewed: March 2021