COVID-19 vaccine and cancer patients
Latest information on the Covid-19 vaccination rollout for people affected by cancer
Last reviewed May 2022
COVID-19 vaccine and cancer patients
The Irish Cancer Society is acutely aware of the challenges that the Covid-19 pandemic continues to present for cancer patients, and their families/carers. The pandemic has caused a great deal of stress, anxiety and hardship for people living with cancer.
What stage is the Covid-19 vaccine rollout at?
As of December 2021, the vast majority (over 90%) of the adult population (people over 16 years of age) of Ireland is fully vaccinated. A booster vaccine is recommended for the whole population.
The advice remains unchanged that patients with cancer should get the Covid‐19 vaccine as soon as it is offered to them, unless advised otherwise by your medical team in your hospital.
COVID-19 vaccine booster
People aged 16 and older can get their COVID-19 vaccine booster dose now. This includes people who have a weak immune system. To book an appointment or find a clinic near you, visit hse.ie
You need to wait at least 3 months (90 days) after your vaccine course before you can get a booster dose. If you have had COVID-19 since you were vaccinated you should get your booster dose at least 3 months after your positive result.
Additional booster vaccine doses
Three groups of people are now being advised to get an additional vaccine (4th) dose:
1. People aged 65 years and over
2. Those with a weak immune system aged 12
3. People who have a weak immune system, also called immunocompromised
People who have a weak immune system (immunocompromised)
People in this group were offered a booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine last year, and can now get an additional booster dose if it has been 3 months since their first booster dose. If they had the Pfizer, Astrazenaca or Moderna vaccine, this additional booster will be their 4th vaccine dose. If they had Janssen vaccine, this additional booster will be their 3rd vaccine dose. This is to improve your body’s response to the vaccine and maximise your protection against serious illness from Covid 19.
In this video Dr Eimear Hayes, Senior Medical Officer from the HSE National Immunisation Office answers questions about the additional dose and booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine for people who have a weak immune system. You can find more information here.
If you have a weak immune system due to your cancer or cancer treatment, it is strongly recommended that you get an additional booster vaccine, as well as your initial booster vaccine. For most people, that means 4 vaccines in total.
Who needs an additional booster dose of vaccine?
Some illnesses, including some particular types of cancer (such as some blood cancers) and some types of cancer treatment (including treatments that affect the immune system), reduce the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccination in people of any age. Such people are said to be “immunocompromised”. This includes cancer patients who:
- Are currently receiving (and/or within 12 months 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
- Are receiving treatment or waiting to start treatment for a haematological cancer (cancers affecting your blood, bone marrow or lymph nodes) including ‘watch & wait’
- Have received treatment for haematological cancer within the last 5 years or if your type of blood cancer may have affected your response to the vaccine
- Have had (in the last 12 months) or are waiting to have haematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT)
- Have had graft-versus-host disease, regardless of when
- Are undergoing or are within 6 weeks of receiving surgery or radical radiotherapy for lung or head and neck cancers
- Have advanced/metastatic cancers (cancer that has spread to another part of your body)
- Have had radiotherapy since March 2021
It is possible that you will be advised to have an additional vaccine dose even though you do not fit in the categories above. Your cancer doctor will explain if this is the case for you.
Why is another vaccination being made available at this time?
Over time Covid-19 has changed to be much more infectious, with the Covid-19 Omicron variant now dominant across Ireland and much of the world.
In people who have a fully working immune system, vaccination is very effective at stopping the virus from causing serious disease.
Recognising the vulnerability of people who are immunocompromised and in line with health agencies in other countries, the HSE are making another Covid-19 vaccination available to such people. This is regarded as a 4th vaccine dose, to complete their course of vaccination.
Evidence indicates that many people with immune compromise will get better protection from the Covid-19 Delta and Omicron variant with this additional vaccination.
Vaccination is not a guarantee of absolute protection but it does greatly reduce the chances of getting sick. Vaccination is therefore one of a range of measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing that help to protect our whole community from infection.
There are many different types of conditions that may benefit from this additional vaccination and your cancer doctor will know if your particular circumstances mean that you will likely benefit.
If you are not on this list but your doctor thinks that you would benefit from an additional vaccine dose, they will advise you.
While most cancer patients will likely be offered an additional vaccine dose, not all cancer patients will need one. Your doctor will be able to advise you if you need one.
The HSE has advised that recommendations for an additional vaccine dose are currently based on clinical diagnosis or treatment, and not on antibody test results.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Will children be offered an additional vaccine dose?
The advice from health authorities is that an additional mRNA vaccine dose should be given to patients aged 12 and older who are considered vulnerable. If your child has or had cancer, ask their doctor if they recommend an additional vaccine dose. They will also advise when the additional dose of vaccine will be due, depending on the age of the child and when they completed their most recent dose.
Who do I contact to arrange my additional vaccine dose?
Hospital teams are identifying which patients should receive an additional vaccine dose and will contact you.
Where will I get my additional vaccine dose?
You will receive your invitation by text to receive an additional vaccine dose and make an appointment online at a Covid-19 vaccination centre close to your home. Some patients will be vaccinated in their hospital if they are currently undergoing treatment in hospital.
Will I receive the same type of vaccine?
Everyone will be offered an mRNA type of vaccine (e.g. Pfizer or Moderna) for their additional dose, no matter what type of vaccine they were given originally.
Does it matter when I got my last vaccine?
Your additional dose of Covid vaccine will be given at least 2 months after your most recent dose. If you have had COVID-19 since your last dose of COVID-19 vaccine, then your additional dose should be delayed for 6 months. For more information on additional vaccine doses, please see the HSE website.
I had an antibody test after I had my vaccine course and it showed a low antibody level, does this mean I need an additional vaccine dose?
No. Those who are recommended to receive an additional dose are identified based on clinical diagnosis or treatment history, rather than antibody test results. There is no agreed or recommended antibody level above which indicates a person is protected.
I have been recommended to get an additional dose of vaccine but am unable to receive an mRNA vaccine due to a contraindication. What vaccine is recommended for me?
An additional dose of a different type of vaccine (Vaxzevria® (Astrazeneca) or COVID-19 Vaccine Janssen®) can be considered for those with a contraindication or precaution to an mRNA vaccine.
Can I get other vaccines at the same time as the additional COVID-19 vaccine?
Yes. The additional dose may be given at the same time or at any interval before or after seasonal influenza vaccine (or any other vaccines). If the additional dose is given at the same time as another vaccine, the vaccines should be given in different arms.
Is there any treatment available for people at the highest risk from COVID-19?
Medicines are starting to become available to treat people with COVID-19 (coronavirus) who are at the highest risk of becoming seriously ill. You'll be told by your doctor or consultant if these medicines are for you and other COVID-19 medicines are expected to become available soon.
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.
- On 4th August 2021 we wrote to Stephen Donnelly to ask that priority vaccination be given to people undergoing treatment for cancer, anyone with an advanced or metastatic cancer and anyone with a haematological cancer diagnosis.
- Throughout the year, we have been advocating as part of a coalition of children, adolescent & young adult cancer charities to ensure this group is vaccinated as a priority.
- We are in regular contact with the National Cancer Control Programme regarding the roll out of vaccines to cancer patients.
- 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 continue to be 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.
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
1800 200 700