COVID-19 vaccine and cancer patients

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Many patients, family members, carers and people who volunteer or work directly with cancer patients, have contacted us to express their anxiety about when they will be vaccinated.

COVID-19 vaccine and cancer patients

The Irish Cancer Society is acutely aware of the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented for cancer patients, and their families/carers. The pandemic has caused a great deal of stress, anxiety and hardship for people living with cancer.

Many patients, family members, carers and people who volunteer or work directly with cancer patients, have contacted us to express their anxiety about when they will be vaccinated.

What stage is the Covid-19 vaccine rollout at?

The COVID-19 Vaccination Strategy outlines different categories of priority in which groups will receive the vaccine. Cancer patients may be included in any of these categories depending on other defining factors.

Those aged over 70, nursing home residents and frontline healthcare workers were among the first groups to receive the vaccine. From 8 March members of the public who are considered to be at very high risk of severe illness from Covid-19 are to receive the vaccine, including many cancer patients, and these vaccinations are due to take place throughout March and April.

Cancer patients in the very high risk category, which we’ve outlined below, will in most cases receive their vaccination through the acute hospital system. This means that medical teams in hospitals are identifying patients under their care who are eligible for vaccination as part of this category. In other cases, patients who are due to receive the vaccine will be identified through their GP. Anyone who is due a vaccination within the coming weeks will be contacted by their medical team or GP to let them know.

Those who are identified by their hospital medical team for vaccination will be sent an appointment. For those undergoing most types of chemotherapy, this will not take place the same day as you attend for an infusion.

Patients with cancer should be advised to avail of the COVID19 vaccine as soon as it is offered to them, unless you are advised otherwise by your medical team in your hospital. 

 

What priority group am I in?

Patients with cancer are included in the priority groups defined by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) as being at very high risk or high risk of severe disease from COVID19. These patients have been allocated into Priority Groups 4, 5 and 7 of the Government’s COVID19 Vaccine Allocation Strategy.

Priority group 4: People aged 1669 with a medical condition that puts them at very high risk of severe disease and death from COVID19.

Priority Group 5: People aged 6569 with a medical condition that puts them at high risk of severe disease and death from COVID19.

Priority Group 7: People aged 1664 with a medical condition that puts them at high risk of severe disease and death from COVID-19.

 

Who is considered very high risk?

  • All cancer patients actively receiving (and/or within 6 weeks of receiving) systemic therapy. This includes cytotoxic chemotherapy, targeted therapy, monoclonal antibodies or immunotherapies. If you are unsure what drug therapy you are receiving, ask your oncology team in your hospital.
  • All patients being treated for lymphoid cancers with a ‘watch and wait’ approach. This includes patients with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) and lymphoma who have completed therapy and resumed a ‘watch and wait’ approach.
  • All patients receiving complex surgery, e.g. for lung cancer, oesophageal cancer or head and neck cancer. Your medical team in your hospital will be able to tell you if your surgery is considered complex.
  • All patients receiving radiotherapy for lung cancer or head & neck cancer.
  • Patients who are due to receive systemic therapy after their radiotherapy. Systemic therapy includes cytotoxic chemotherapy, targeted therapy, monoclonal antibodies or immunotherapies. If you are unsure what drug therapy you are receiving, ask your oncology team in your hospital.
  • Patients who are at high risk of severe immunocompromise from combined systemic therapy and radiotherapy treatment, e.g. for the treatment of some CNS tumours such as glioblastoma.
  • All patients with advanced/metastatic cancers (cancer that has spread to another part of your body).
  • Patients who have a severely compromised immune system due to disease or treatment, for example patients who have haematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT) within the last 12 months or who are currently listed for transplant, and patients who are undergoing CAR-T-cell therapy.
  • Patients who have had certain medications that can suppress the immune system, such as Cyclophosphamide, Rituximab, Alemtuzumab, Cladribine or Ocrelizumab in the last 6 months. If you are unsure what drug therapy you are receiving, ask your medical team in your hospital.
  • All cancer patients who are required to travel abroad for diagnosis or treatment.

 

Who is considered high risk?

  • Patients who have had haematological (blood) cancers and completed their treatment in the last 12 months.
  • Patients who have had haematological (blood) cancers and completed their treatment in the last 5 years.
  • Patients with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) who are being actively monitored.
  • Patients who have had non-haematological cancers and completed their treatment in the last 12 months.
  • Patients currently on any treatment that is non-hormonal and who are not included in the ‘very high risk’ group. If you are unsure what treatment you are on, ask your medical team in your hospital.

If you are unsure what group you are in, ask your medical team in your hospital.

 

Who will give me my vaccine?

Most patients in priority group 4, will receive their COVID – 19 vaccine in their hospital. Your medical team in your hospital will advise you who will give you your vaccine.

The vaccine roll-out strategy may be seen as a ‘living document’ and we have been calling for people living with cancer and other chronic illnesses to be prioritised, alongside partner organisations.

This page will continue to be updated as new information on vaccination schedules becomes available.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

The HSE has provided the following information on the AstraZeneca vaccine

The Irish Cancer Society is advocating on behalf of cancer patients

The Irish Cancer Society believes that along with healthcare workers and people in residential care facilities, the highest priority should be given to individuals of all ages with cancer and other chronic or rare illnesses, who risk severe disease if they get COVID-19.

Our recent efforts to ensure that cancer patients are prioritised for vaccination include:

  • On 8 December 2020, the Irish Cancer Society contacted An Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, along with Minister for Health and the Chair of the High-Level Task Force on Vaccination and Immunisation. This letter was written as part of a coalition of fifteen patient organisations facilitated by IPPOSI. We underlined the need for all individuals with chronic illness to receive the vaccine with priority, alongside healthcare workers and those in residential care facilities.
  • In December 2020, we also contacted a number of members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and requested the support of committee members for ensuring that people with cancer and other chronic or rare diseases, regardless of age, are given the highest priority for the COVID-19 vaccination.
  • On 8 January 2021, we contacted the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly. In our letter, we reiterated our request to prioritise people living with chronic illness and to ask for clarity on the estimated timeline for the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines for those with medical conditions. We also asked for continuity of care and the safety of cancer patients during the current public health crisis.
  • On 22 January 2021, we wrote to National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC), and forwarded a copy to the Minister for Health. In our letter, we urged for priority access to vaccination for people living with cancer in treatment, people with chronic disease after treatment, and people in the survivorship phase. We also asked for clarity on the timeline during which people on the cancer care pathway will be vaccinated.

We welcomed updated guidelines on vaccination of people who are immunocompromised, and have asked how these will be put in place for people before, during and after cancer treatment.

We also sought clarity on vaccination on behalf of carers of children with cancer, volunteers who directly support cancer patients (including our Volunteer Drivers), and people who work with cancer patients at cancer support centres.  At the moment, many are unclear where they fit into the vaccination roll-out programme and we are seeking more guidance and reassurance on this.

The Irish Cancer Society is supporting people living with cancer, survivors and their families/carers

We are here to support people living with cancer throughout the COVID-19 public health crisis.

We have been running a range of services for people throughout, including:

  • The Irish Cancer Society’s Freephone Support Line. The Support Line is staffed with trained cancer nurses who are available to speak about any cancer-related issues or other issues affecting patients during this difficult time. Contact the Support Line on 1800 200 700. 
  • The Society’s Night Nursing service has continued to operate over the course of the pandemic to ensure that people can be cared for with dignity at home. Our Night Nursing service experienced an increase in demand for people who need at-home assistance.
  • Our Volunteer Driver Service operates in 23 hospitals around Ireland, to bring people who need transportation to and from chemotherapy appointments.
  • We also provide remote counselling for people living with cancer and their loved ones.
  • Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have also been speaking up for people affected by cancer. 
  • In July 2020, we delivered evidence to policy makers the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 Response, following a written submission.
  • In September 2020, we shared our ideas with TDs and the government for building and supporting Irish cancer services in our pre-budget submission. Many of our calls for funding were mirrored in the 2021 Budget.
  • In December 2020, we presented evidence to the Oireachtas Committee on Health on  Cancer Screening and Care Services. During this debate and in our advance written submission, we spoke about the implementation of the National Cancer Strategy 2017-2026 to date, and the impact of COVID-19 on a system which is already in need of additional capacity.
  • We have also urged the public to contact their GP if they are experiencing symptoms of cancer, and to bring attention to waiting times for colonoscopies.
Contact the Irish Cancer Society Support Line

If you have worries or concerns about cancer, you can speak confidentially to an Irish Cancer Society Cancer Nurse through the Freephone Support Line on 1800 200 700.

Monday to Friday, 9.00am - 5.00pm

For more information

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1800 200 700

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