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Should Childhood Cancer Long-Term Survivors Get the COVID-19 Vaccine?

Should childhood cancer survivors get the COVID-19 vaccine?

As a long-term survivor of childhood cancer, you may be wondering – should I get the COVID-19 vaccine?

You should get the vaccine once it becomes available to you, provided you do not have a health condition that would prevent you from getting it, such as an allergy to ingredients in the vaccine.

Also, sometimes there are restrictions on who should get vaccines if the vaccine contains live virus. But the two COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the U.S. do not have live virus. They are both mRNA vaccines. They are safe, even if your immune defenses are weakened. For more information about mRNA vaccines, visit the Frequently Asked Questions below.

Since supply of the vaccine is limited, it is being given out in phases. People with the highest risk of serious complications of COVID-19 will likely get the vaccine in earlier phases. Being a childhood cancer survivor is not a high-risk category in itself. Being older and having certain medical conditions may put you in a higher-risk category.

When Can Childhood Cancer Survivors Get the COVID-19 Vaccine?

In most states, the COVID-19 vaccine is being given at first to health care workers, first responders, and residents of long-term health care facilities such as nursing homes. But the vaccine will be available to more groups of people as production expands and more vaccines are approved. 

There are age requirements for the two vaccines. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is approved for people 16 and older. The Moderna vaccine has been approved for those 18 and older. Each vaccine requires 2 doses.

Each state decides how to give out the COVID-19 vaccine based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In many states, the next groups will likely be people who are 65 and older and those with medical conditions that put them at risk for severe COVID-19 illness. 

At-risk conditions include but are not limited to:

  • Cancer (currently receiving treatment)
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Diabetes
  • Cerebrovascular disease or stroke
  • Dementia
  • Heart problems
  • Weakened immune system 
  • Obesity 
  • Pregnancy 
  • Sickle cell disease

Frequently Asked Questions 

Information for Childhood Cancer Survivors About Who Should and Should Not Get the Vaccine

Should I Take the COVID-19 Vaccine if I Have a Weakened Immune System?  

Yes, it is safe to take the vaccine if you have a weakened immune system, but the vaccine may not work as well. You are encouraged to discuss the risks and benefits of vaccination with your care team to determine the best time for you to get the vaccine.

Can I Get the COVID-19 Vaccine If I’ve Had a Bone Marrow Transplant?

In general, vaccines are recommended after transplant to protect you from different infections. Please talk to your transplant care team. For more information on vaccinations after a bone marrow transplant, please visit Be the Match’s Vaccinations After Hematopoietic Cell Transplant. 

Can I Get the COVID-19 Vaccine if My Spleen Has Been Removed?

In general, vaccines are recommended for people who have had their spleen removed. Please talk to your health care provider. For more information on vaccines after spleen removal, visit the CDC page on this topic.

Who Should NOT Receive the Vaccine?

The main reason not to get a COVID-19 vaccine is if you have a history of severe allergic reaction after the first dose of the vaccine or if you are allergic to any component of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or the Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. 

Both currently available vaccines contain polyethylene glycol (PEG). PEG is a primary ingredient in some laxatives and bowel preparations for colonoscopy. It is also used in other injectable medications. 

Do not get the vaccine if you have a history of allergic reaction to polysorbate. PEG can cause an allergic reaction in people with a polysorbate allergy. 

If you have a history of allergy to other vaccine or injectable components, you should be evaluated by an allergist-immunologist before getting the vaccine. If your doctor says you can safely receive it, you should get the vaccine at a facility that can respond quickly if you have a severe allergic reaction.  

Should I Get the COVID-19 Vaccine if I Have a History of Food or Seasonal Allergy?

Allergic reactions (including severe allergic reactions) caused by food, pets, insect stings, or environmental allergens are not conditions that should prevent you from getting a COVID-19 vaccine or require special precautions. As always, tell your vaccine provider about your medical history, including known allergies. 

Can I Get a COVID-19 Vaccine if I Have an Egg Allergy?

Yes, it is safe to receive a COVID-19 vaccine with an egg allergy.  Unlike some flu vaccines, current COVID-19 vaccines are not made using eggs.

Should I Get the Vaccine if I Am Pregnant or Planning to Become Pregnant?

Women who are pregnant and breastfeeding may get the vaccine, according to the CDC. If you have concerns, please talk to your obstetrician. For more information, visit the CDC interim clinical considerations page. 

Do I Need a COVID-19 Vaccine if I Have Already Tested Positive or Have Antibodies?

Yes, the vaccine is recommended even if you have had COVID-19 previously. The immune response to illness with COVID-19 can vary widely. It is not known how long the protection lasts.

More Information About the Vaccine and Its Risks

Which Vaccine Should I Get?

Both vaccines are equally effective and safe. 

What Are the Risks of Getting the Vaccine?

Side effects after COVID-19 vaccine have been reported. However, serious reactions have been extremely rare. 

Side effects may include temporary redness, soreness, or swelling at the injection site. Headache, fever, fatigue, chills, nausea, or body aches can occur. These reactions are usually mild and go away in a couple of days. Ibuprofen and acetaminophen may help relieve some of the symptoms. There have been a few reported cases of allergic reactions, but these have been among individuals with a history of serious allergy to the vaccine or its components.

What Are the Risks of Not Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine?

If you choose not to get the vaccine, you increase your risk of illness from COVID-19. 

Does the COVID-19 Vaccine Contain Live COVID-19 Virus?

No. Both vaccines are mRNA vaccines.

What Do We Know About mRNA Vaccines?

mRNA vaccine technology has been widely studied in clinical trials for other diseases, such as influenza, rabies, Zika, and Ebola. The COVID-19 vaccines created by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are the first mRNA vaccines authorized by the FDA.

How Do mRNA Vaccines Differ from Other Vaccines?

Most vaccines contain a weakened or inactive form of the germ or proteins made by it. mRNA vaccines teach our cells how to make a certain protein. The protein triggers the body’s immune response to recognize and respond if exposed to the germ in the future. The mRNA can’t make you sick. It is quickly dissolved in the body. mRNA technology is much faster to develop than other types of vaccines, which is one reason COVID-19 vaccines are already available.

The Vaccine Was Developed Quickly. Is the Vaccine Safe?

Rapid development and testing were possible because of teamwork among scientists, clinicians, and public health workers.  These same groups are continuing to work closely together to monitor long-term safety and immune responses.

How Well Does the Vaccine Work?

COVID-19 vaccines appear to work very well to prevent illness. Current research suggests that the vaccine can prevent 90-95% of COVID-19 illness in people who get both doses of the vaccine. 

Do I Still Have to Wear a Mask After I Get the Vaccine? 

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

  • Wear a mask
  • Practice physical distancing
  • Wash your hands frequently
  • Watch for symptoms

More research is needed to understand how long immunity lasts and whether someone who had the vaccine and gets infected might still be able to transmit the virus to others.  Also, it will likely take several months, perhaps more than a year, before everyone can get the vaccine.

Find More Information About COVID-19 Vaccines

Reviewed: December 2020