- How do vaccines work?
- When will I get the COVID-19 vaccine?
- Vaccine and immunity
- Side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine
- Helpful Resources
Patients with cancer or receiving cancer treatment (including Chemotherapy, Immunotherapy, Hormonal therapy or Radiotherapy) are advised to avail of the vaccine as soon as it is made available to them, as long as there is no medical reason why they should not receive it.
People with cancer have an increased risk of severe illness from Covid-19. Cancer or cancer treatments can weaken the body’s ability to fight infection and getting the Covid-19 vaccine offers some protection from Covid-19. You should still continue to take extra care to protect yourself from coronavirus such as adhering to restrictions, keeping up good hand hygiene and maintaining distancing, and encourage your family and friends to do the same.
Yes, is important to speak with your healthcare team about the COVID-19 vaccine if you have any concerns about it,but the following information may be of help.
To download a free copy of the HSE’s three-step prevention leaflet for cancer patients, click here.
How do vaccines work?
A vaccine is a type of medicine that trains the body’s immune system so that it can fight disease it has not come into contact with before. Vaccines are designed to prevent disease, rather than treat disease once you have caught it.
For cancer patients, the COVID-19 vaccine will help to boost your ability to fight COVID-19, but in general, vaccines benefit our community as a whole.
With a higher uptake in vaccines, comes a lower rate of infections in the general community. This means that those working in our health care system and on the front line spend less time treating COVID-19, and have more time to treat and care for individuals with other health issues.
This has other benefits for cancer patients as less infections could mean less of a wait when it comes to accessing vital services like GP visits or treatment appointments.
When will I get the COVID-19 vaccine?
Currently, rollout out of Covid-19 vaccines are underway in our health service and clinically vulnerable groups will be vaccinated over the next few months. People who are most at risk from COVID-19 are being vaccinated first.
Cancer is not specified in the group allocation strategy for vaccination. Patients who are “extremely high risk” are in the 5th and 7th groups in the vaccination programme. Patients with cancer are included in both those 2 groups depending on their age. Group 5 covers those aged 65-69 and Group 7 covers those aged 18-64.
It does not state cancer specifically but it states patients ‘with medical conditions including immunosuppression due to disease or treatment’.
The groups for the COVID-19 vaccine allocation groups are as follows:
- Group 1 – Adults aged ≥65 years who are residents of long-term care facilities
- Group 2 – Frontline healthcare workers
- Group 3 -People aged 70 and older
- Group 4– Aged 16-69 and at very high risk of severe COVID-19 disease
- Group 5 – Aged 65-69 whose underlying condition puts them at a high risk of severe disease and death
- Group 6 – People aged 65-69, other healthcare workers, and key vaccination programme workers
- Group 7 -Aged 16-64 and at high risk of severe COVID-19 disease
- Group 8 -Residents of long-term care facilities aged 18-64
- Group 9 – Aged 18-64 years living working in crowded accommodation where self-isolation and social distancing is difficult to maintain
- Group 10- Key workers in essential jobs who cannot avoid a high risk of exposure to COVID-19
- Group 11- People essential to education and who face disease exposure
- Group 12 – Aged 55-64 years
- Group 13 –People in occupations important to the functioning of society
- Group 14 –Aged 18-54 years who did not have access to the vaccine in prior phases
- Group 15 – Children, adolescents up to 18 years and pregnant women (to be refined)
Getting the Covid-19 vaccine offers you some protection from Covid-19. It is possible that vaccines may be less effective for patients having cancer treatments. However, it is still expected that the vaccines will give most patients with cancer some protection against Covid-19.
It is recommended that you get the vaccine as soon as it is offered to you. If you are due to start any type of cancer treatment, or if you are already receiving cancer treatment, your healthcare team will advise you on the best timing to receive the vaccine
How long does it take for the vaccine to provide immunity against Covid-19?
Research from vaccines recently approved shows it takes roughly 4-6 weeks for immunity to be established. The currently approved vaccines require two doses 3-4 weeks apart to optimise this immunity.
It takes approximately 7 days after the second vaccination dose for the body to be protected against Covid-19. The level of immunity generated by the vaccine in patients with cancer may be affected by a variety of factors, including:
- The type of cancer
- The type of treatment received
- The timing of administration of the vaccine
- Pre-existing immune conditions
- A person’s general health and level of fitness.
The effectiveness of the vaccine may be lower in people who are immunosuppressed.
Currently, we do not yet know if the vaccine will stop people from spreading Covid-19 to others. Even after you have been vaccinated, you should still continue to abide by public health measures outlined to help reduce the spread of Covid-19. (physical distancing, good cough etiquette, wearing face coverings and regular effective handwashing)
How is the Covid-19 vaccine given?
The Covid-19 vaccine is given as an intramuscular injection into the deltoid muscle in the upper arm.
Two doses of the current vaccine are required to complete the course and should be given at the recommended intervals (usually 3 to 4 weeks apart).
What are the side effects of the Covid-19 vaccine?
Do people who are having cancer treatments have more side-effects? Answer – No.
Most of the known side effects of the Covid-19 vaccine are mild to moderate and generally do not last any longer than a few days to a week. There have not been any reports of a higher incidence of side effects in patients with cancer.
The most frequently reported side effects include the following:
- Pain at the injection site
- Feeling tired
- Feeling achy
- Low-grade fever or chills
Painkillers may be used to alleviate these side effects but ask your healthcare team first.
A high temperature following Covid-19 vaccination may be related to infection as opposed to a side-effect to the vaccine. If you are currently receiving treatment for cancer and you should let your health care team know if you have a high temperature.
The Covid-19 vaccine is a new vaccine and its safety and efficacy will continue to be monitored on an ongoing basis. No long-term complications from Covid-19 vaccination have been reported to date.
Do my family need to have the Covid-19 vaccine?
Yes. Anyone that lives with you or carers who may be involved in your care should also have the Covid-19 vaccine. This is to protect you and to protect themselves.
If a person has already had Covid-19, do they need to get the vaccine?
Yes. People who have already had Covid-19 should still receive the vaccine but it is recommended to postpone vaccination until they have fully recovered from Covid-19. Talk to your health care practitioner if you have any concerns. We know now that re-infection with Covid-19 is possible so it is important to be vaccinated to reduce the risk. If you do get Covid-19 again, the vaccine may reduce the seriousness of your symptoms.
More information on the Covid-19 vaccination:
We encourage everyone to read about the COVID-19 vaccine and to get their information from a factual, trusted source – here are the links to the pages with information on the vaccine:
- HSE Vaccination information and visuals for each vaccine type – here
- Check hse.ie/covid19vaccine for information about the vaccine, information on this page is updated regularly
- Find the vaccine information materials at www.hse.ie/covid19vaccinematerials
- Details on getting the COVID-19 vaccine is updated regularly here
- Read the full COVID-19 Vaccine Allocation Strategy
- Read the National Immunisation Advisory Committee Chapter about COVID-19 vaccine
- COVID-19 and cancer leaflet