While cancer patients, and people with a history of cancer, were not in the first phase the CDC recommended to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, they are now included in Michigan’s vaccination plan. As vaccines become more widely available in our area, many people are wondering if the vaccine is safe for them to receive during or after treatment. In most cases, the answer is yes.
The COVID-19 vaccine is safe for cancer patients
The American Cancer Society recommends cancer patients, and people with a history of cancer, get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it becomes available. This is because cancer patients’ fragile immune systems put them at a greater risk for severe COVID-19 including hospitalization or death.
"Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy, and stem cell or bone marrow transplants can affect the immune system," medical oncologist, Sapna Patel, MD, said. "And that could impact the effectiveness of the vaccine."
However, Dr. Patel wants to make it clear that the vaccine is completely safe for people with cancer. “When it comes to cancer patients and the COVID-19 vaccine, there is no question it is safe. The only thing that isn’t clear is just how effective it will be at protecting people who have weakened immune systems.”
This uncertainty is because the initial COVID-19 vaccine trials were among people with healthy immune systems. Even though the information is inconclusive, if you are being treated for cancer you should get the vaccine. Making sure you have some protection is better than no protection at all.
Your doctor can help you manage side effects
Dr. Patel encourages all patients to talk to their doctor if they have concerns about the vaccine.
“Since every cancer patient's situation is different, your doctor can let you know how the vaccine will fit into your treatment plan,” she said. "And they can help you prepare for timing your vaccine around or during treatment as well as the common side effects."
Those side effects may include headache, fever, chills, and muscle aches, as well as pain at the injection site, which will be your arm.
Breast cancer patients should be aware that swollen lymph nodes are another vaccine side effect. So, if you are currently diagnosed or have had breast cancer in the past, make sure to get the vaccine injection in the arm on the opposite side of your cancer.
Get scheduled for your vaccine
Vaccines are now available for all community members age 16 and older. Use the vaccine scheduling tool at spectrumhealthlakeland.org/vaccine to sign up, new appointment times are added as they become available.