If you currently have cancer or you’re a cancer survivor, you may have a lot of questions about the available COVID-19 vaccines. As far as where you can get the vaccine if you have cancer, SurvivorNet has a state-by-state guide currently available.

What Should Cancer Patients and Survivors Know About the COVID-19 Vaccine?
Steven Cornfield

Before you start scheduling an appointment, you may want some basic information, and the following are a few important things to know.

The Basics of COVID-19 Vaccines

So far, there are three approved COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. These vaccines are unique, and they teach the immune system how to recognize and then fight the virus causing COVID-19. It may take a few weeks after you get vaccinated to reach immunity.

According to the CDC, the approved COVID vaccines have undergone some of the most rigorous safety monitoring in the U.S.

Some people may have side effects after they get a vaccine, like feeling tired or getting chills or body aches, but the CDC says these side effects should go away in a few days.

The COVID-19 vaccines currently available are messenger RNA vaccines or mRNA vaccines.

An mRNA vaccine tells your cells to make a spike protein, which is found on the virus surface of COVID-19. Once the mRNA instructions are in your immune cells, the cells make a protein piece, and then the cell breaks down the instructions and eliminates them. The cell then shows a protein piece on the surface, and our immune system recognizes it shouldn’t be there and builds an immune response.

The idea is that once the process of the vaccine is done, our bodies know how to protect against future infection.

There are three shots available under emergency use authorization from the FDA right now.

There’s the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, given in two doses and authorized for people 16 and older. The doses are given three weeks apart.

There’s the Moderna vaccine, authorized for people 18 and older. It’s given in two doses, four weeks apart.

The newest approved vaccine is the Johnson & Johnson option, authorized for people 18 and older and given in a single injection.

The J&J vaccine isn’t actually an mRNA vaccine. Instead, it contains a type of virus that triggers the immune system to recognize and attack the COVID-19 vaccine if you’re exposed to it. It’s not a live virus because it can’t reproduce in the body or cause disease.

Can Cancer Patients Get Vaccines?

Cancer patients can get vaccines, sometimes, but it depends on different factors you have to talk about with your doctor.

For example, factors that play a role in whether or not you can get a vaccine, in general, include the type of cancer you have or had, if you’re still being treated, the type of vaccine, and if your immune system is working correctly.

Only your doctor can make a determination as to whether or not a COVID-19 vaccine is right for you.

Are Cancer Patients Prioritized?

The supply of vaccines in the U.S. was initially very limited. Many states started vaccinating health care workers first.

Now, however, the pool of available vaccines is expanding.

The CDC has recommendations as to who should get the vaccine first, but states can set their own guidelines.

Cancer patients weren’t in the CDC’s guidelines for people to get the vaccine first, but they are in one of the next priority groups, and they fall under the category of high-risk medical conditions.

Should You Get the Vaccine?

Again, whether or not to get the vaccine is something you need to speak to your doctor about, but many medical groups do advise people with cancer or a history of cancer to get a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available to them.

The biggest concern, according to the American Cancer Society, isn’t necessarily whether or not it’s safe for people with cancer, but how effective it will end up being, especially in people with weakened immune systems.

The studies of the vaccines did not initially include people who were getting treatment with drugs that suppress the immune system or in people with weakened immune systems for other reasons.

Your doctor can go over the risks versus the benefits of getting a COVID-19 vaccine with you and help you figure out the right path.

Additionally, even after getting a vaccine, depending on your situation, your doctor might still advise you to wear a mask and avoid places with poor air circulation and crowds, as well as continuing to practice social distancing.