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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 ask — should I get the COVID-19 vaccine?

You should get the vaccine when it is available to you — unless you are allergic to an ingredient in the vaccine or have another health condition that prevents you from being vaccinated.

COVID-19 vaccines help our bodies develop immunity to the virus that causes COVID-19.

The first vaccine that is available to you is the best vaccine. Check with your local health care provider or health department to see if the vaccine is available for you now.

The national VaccineFinder website can help you find vaccine locations in your area.

What Vaccines are Available?

There are 3 vaccines available:

Name of Vaccine Number of Doses Required Age Range
Pfizer-BioNTech 2 (21 days apart) 12 and older
Moderna 2 (28 days apart) 18 and older
Johnson & Johnson 1 18 and older

All COVID-19 vaccines appear to work very well to prevent severe illness (requiring hospital care or dying from COVID-19).

Note about Johnson & Johnson vaccine

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have recommended that use of Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen (J&J/Janssen) COVID-19 Vaccine resume in the United States, effective 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 J&J/Janssen vaccine, here is what you need to know.


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

It depends on where you live. Each state in the U.S. decides how to give out the COVID-19 vaccine based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Everyone 12 years of age and older is now eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S.

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
  • Avoid large gatherings

Frequently Asked Questions

Who should and should not get the vaccine?

  1. 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.

  2. In general, vaccines are recommended after transplant to protect you from different infections. Visit Be the Match’s Vaccinations After Hematopoietic Cell Transplant for more information. Please talk to your transplant care team if you have questions.

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

  4. You should not get a COVID-19 vaccine if you have a history of severe allergic reaction to any component of the vaccine.

    Pfizer and Moderna vaccines

    Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines contain polyethylene glycol (PEG.) PEG is a primary ingredient in some laxatives and bowel preparations for colonoscopy procedures. It is also used in some injectable medications. Do not get the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine if you have a PEG allergy.

    If you have a severe allergic reaction to the first dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, do not receive a second dose.

    Johnson & Johnson vaccine

    Polysorbate 80 is an ingredient in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Do not get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine if you have a polysorbate allergy.

    PEG and polysorbate hypersensitivity

    PEG and polysorbate are closely related to each other. Sometimes “cross-reactive hypersensitivity” may occur.

    You may be concerned about getting any of the vaccines if you have an allergy to these ingredients.

    But people who are allergic to PEG may be able to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. People who are allergic to polysorbate may be able to receive the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

    Ask your doctor if can get the other type of vaccine. If the answer is yes, let your vaccine provider know you have a PEG or polysorbate allergy.

    For more information, visit the CDC's COVID-19 Vaccines for People with Allergies.

  5. Allergic reactions caused by food, pets, insect stings, or other things do not prevent you from getting a COVID-19 vaccine or need special precautions.

    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.

    As always, tell your vaccine provider about your medical history, including known allergies.

  6. Pregnancy or Planning a Pregnancy

    Pregnant women are at higher risk for problems caused by COVID-19.

    Pregnant women and women who are planning to become pregnant can get the vaccine as soon as it is available for them.

    • More than 30,000 pregnancies have been self-reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) by women who have received a COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S.
    • There is no evidence that a COVID-19 vaccine affects fertility.
    • There were no extra safety concerns among women vaccinated during pregnancy or in the babies born to vaccinated mothers.

    We do not have a lot of information on breastfeeding after a COVID-19 vaccine. However, it is unlikely that it would be harmful. In fact, breast milk may offer some immune protection against COVID-19 for the baby. Also, vaccination helps protect children in the same household who are not able to receive the vaccine.

    Both the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine recommend the COVID-19 vaccine for breastfeeding women.

    As always, women should contact their doctor with specific questions or concerns.

  7. Yes, the vaccine is recommended even if you have had COVID-19. The immune response to illness with COVID-19 can vary widely. It is not known how long the protection lasts. But studies suggest that getting the vaccine after having COVID-19 improves the level of antibodies that protect you.

More information about the vaccine and its risks

  1. The vaccines are equally effective and safe.

  2. Side effects after COVID-19 vaccine have been reported. But 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 in people who have a serious allergy to the vaccine or its components.

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

  4. People are considered fully vaccinated:

    • 2 weeks or more after they have received the second dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine
    • 2 weeks after getting 1 dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine
  5. The Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines are mRNA vaccines.

    The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a viral vector vaccine.

  6. The mRNA vaccines teach our cells how to make copies of proteins on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19.

    The protein triggers the body’s immune response to recognize and respond if exposed to the germ in the future.

    The mRNA vaccine can’t make you sick. It is quickly dissolved in the body. It cannot change your DNA in any way.

  7. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a viral vector vaccine. It targets the spike proteins on the surface of the virus.

    A viral vector vaccine uses a harmless version of a different virus called a “vector,” to deliver information to your body that helps it protect you.

    The vaccine teaches your body how to make copies of proteins on the surface of the virus. If you are exposed to the real virus later, your body will recognize it and know how to fight it off.

    The vaccine does not contain the virus that causes COVID-19. It cannot give you COVID-19.

  8. The COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the U.S. do not have live virus. They are safe, even if your immune defenses are weakened.

  9. Teamwork among scientists, clinicians, and public health workers made rapid development and testing possible. These same groups continue to work together to monitor long-term safety and immune responses.

  10. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates vaccines. The FDA works with scientists, vaccine developers, and federal and state agencies to make sure vaccines meet rigorous standards for safety and effectiveness.

    Data is independently evaluated by FDA scientists and physicians. Based on the data, the FDA can authorize a COVID-19 vaccine under Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) provisions.

    After authorization, the clinical trials continue. More data will become available. The companies developing COVID-19 vaccines are working toward a full FDA approval. The FDA, CDC, and other health agencies will continue to monitor the vaccine.

    For more information, visit the FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization for Vaccines Explained.

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

Find More Information About COVID-19 Vaccines

Reviewed: May 2021