Cancer patients and the COVID-19 vaccine

Information and FAQ for patients and caregivers
August 19, 2021

COVID-19 vaccination

We are aware that Ontario will begin offering third doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, at least eight weeks after second doses, to select vulnerable populations, including transplant recipients, those being actively treated for hematological cancers, and people who take specific medications called anti-CD20 agents. We are working with our Public Health partners to determine the best way for these patients to receive their third doses. Those affected will be contacted directly.

Vaccines are safe and they can protect you from serious illnesses like COVID-19. People who have or have recently had cancer may have a higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19. The vaccine is an important part of protecting people with cancer.

If you have questions about whether the vaccine is right for you, talk to:
• Your cancer care team if you are getting cancer treatment now
• Your primary care provider (family doctor or nurse practitioner) if you have already finished your cancer treatment.

Most cancer patients and their primary caregivers will be included in Phase 2 of the Province’s vaccination rollout plan. We hope that all patients that are eligible for vaccination will be vaccinated at this time. Learn more about the provincial rollout plan here.

Click here to download the complete document from Cancer Care Ontario about the COVID vaccine for cancer patients 

Frequently Asked Questions

Will you be providing the COVID vaccine at the Cancer Centre? 
The Cancer Centre of Southeastern Ontario will be providing vaccinations for patients in the highest and high risk category who are have not yet been able to access their first dose in the community, and patients who are eligible for their second dose at an early interval.

Those eligible for first dose and early interval second dose:

  • Patients with who are 3 months to 2 years post stem cell transplant
  • Patients on or starting chemotherapy, targeted therapy or immunotherapy.

Those eligible for first dose:

  •  Patients diagnosed with a blood cancer in the last year are eligible for their first dose

Patients who are eligible for these vaccines will be contacted by a unit clerk from the Cancer Centre. We will provide updates as the more groups of patients or caregivers become eligible for a vaccine at the Cancer Centre. If you have any questions, you can contact the KHSC vaccine clinic on Monday-Friday  at 613-548-2376. Most of our patients and their primary caregivers will be able to receive a vaccine in the community as soon as they are eligible. 

 

How safe is the COVID-19 vaccine for people with cancer?  
The COVID-19 vaccine has been tested on thousands of people and has proven to be safe.  Health Canada only approves vaccines that meet strict safety and efficacy (how well something works) standards. The COVID-19 vaccines have had the same safety checks and testing as any other vaccine that has been approved. The COVID-19 vaccine has not yet been tested on people with cancer. From studying other vaccines, such as the flu shot, doctors say that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe for most with people with cancer. You cannot get infected with COVID-19 from the vaccine.  

Does the COVID-19 vaccine have side effects? 
Serious side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine are very rare. Most side-effects from the COVID19 vaccine are mild and will go away on their own. The most common side effects are: 

  •  pain in your arm where the needle was given
  •  fatigue (feeling very tired)
  • headache
  • body chills
  • muscle aches
  • joint pain
  • fever (a temperature taken by mouth of 38.3◦ C (100.9 F) or higher one time or 38.0◦ C (100.4◦ F) for at least one hour)
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting 

After you get the COVID-19 vaccine, wait for at least 15 minutes before going home. This wait is to check for side effects or an allergic reaction. Side effects are more likely to happen after your second dose. If side-effects last for more than 2-3 days, make sure you speak to your health care team.  

How long does it take for the vaccine to protect against COVID-19? 
Both approved COVID-19 vaccines protect you about 7-14 days after you get the second shot of the vaccine.  More studies are needed to know how well the vaccine works for people with cancer. Some people with cancer may not get as much protection from the vaccine, but any amount of protection helps to keep you safe.  
  
When will the vaccine be available for people with cancer? 
The government is rolling out a three-phase plan to ensure that people can get COVID-19 vaccines as soon as they are available. Some people with cancer may be able to get the vaccine before some other groups.  Since COVID-19 can cause people with cancer to get very sick, you should talk with your health care team about getting the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it is available.  Learn more about the provincial rollout plan here.

At what point in treatment is the best time for people with cancer to get the vaccine? 
Speak to your health care team to decide the right time for you to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Your health care team can help you decide based on: 

  • your medical history
  • the details of your cancer and treatment 

Can the COVID-19 vaccine cause an allergic reaction? 
There have been reports of people having an allergic reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine. If you have a severe allergy to anything, speak with your health care team before getting the vaccine.    

Is it safe to take the AstraZeneca vaccine? 
For patients 55 years of age and older, Health Canada has stated that the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine continues to be safe and effective at protecting against COVID-19 .Health care professionals, scientists, and government agencies in Ontario – and around the world – will continue to monitor the safety of all vaccines.­

Who is eligible to get vaccination through the Cancer Centre?
At this time, patients of the cancer centre in the highest and high risk categories are eligible at this time to get vaccinated at the cancer centre. 

Highest-risk:

  • Hematopoietic stem cell transplant recipients (autologous stem cell transplant)
  • Haematological malignancy (eg leukemia, lymphoma, myeloma) diagnosed less than 1 year ago
  • Caregivers of these individuals

High-risk:

  • Other treatments causing immunosuppression (e.g., chemotherapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapy) 

How will I be contacted regarding getting my shot? 
If you are eligible to receive a vaccine through the Cancer Centre, you will be contacted by a member of the nursing team to schedule an appointment. To be considered eligible, you must meet one of the criteria listed in the following question (“when will I get my second shot”). However, unless you are on or starting systemic treatment, we encourage you to make an appointment to receive your vaccine in the community as soon as you are eligible because you may be able to get the vaccine earlier in the community in some situations.

When will I get my second shot?
The recommendation is that everyone get their second vaccine within 16 weeks of the first dose, in  except in certain circumstances.  According to the Ontario Vaccine Clinical Advisory Group it is recommended that the following individuals should receive the COVID-19 vaccine at the dose interval recommended by the manufacturer (21 or 28 days):

  • Patients with malignant hematologic disorders
  • Patients with non-malignant solid tumours
  • Patients receiving active treatment (chemotherapy, targeted therapies, and immunotherapy)
  • Transplant recipients, including solid organ and stem cell transplants. 

Who do I contact if my appointment needs to be changed?
 If you were contacted by the Cancer Centre to set up your vaccination appointment than you should call your Oncologist’s office to assist you with rebooking. If you booked through another community agency than you will need to follow up with them directly.

I have heard that oncology patients are prioritized, is that true? 
Cancer patients are considered at-risk based on the provincial rollout of vaccine and may be eligible to receive their vaccine ahead of other community members. Within the population of cancer patients, however, are other groups that are even more vulnerable to get very sick from COVID-19. All of these individuals are eligible to receive vaccines during Phase 2 in order of risk.

Can my loved one get their vaccine through the Cancer Centre?
At this point we do not know if we will be allocated enough doses to have caregivers vaccinated through the Cancer Centre, however, your caregiver may be eligible to receive their vaccine in the community at this time. We will update this information as soon as we know more.

I have more questions, who should I call? 
If you have questions that weren’t addressed here, please contact a member of your care team.  Our teams are working very hard to ensure our patients have as much information as possible. We will do our best to help, but it is important to remember that at this point we may not be able to answer all of your questions. We understand that this may be upsetting or frustrating, however, abusive language or behaviours directed at any of our staff members will not be tolerated.

Additional Resources 

Ontario Ministry of Health’s Information Sheet on Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 Vaccines 

Health Canada Recommendations for People with Serious Allergies 

Kingston Frontenac Lennox & Addington Public Health- COVID-19 Vaccines

Hastings Prince Edward Public Health - COVID-19 Vaccines

Leeds,Grenville & Lanark - COVID-19 Vaccines 

 

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