COVID-19 vaccines: What you need to know

Some of the people in our network are asking about COVID-19 vaccinations so we thought it might be helpful to address some common questions and concerns.

If you aren’t sure about getting the vaccine, it is worthwhile thinking about how you made decisions about your breast cancer treatment and care. Ideally, you’ll be asking lots of questions, seeking advice from trusted health professionals, and relying on credible, evidence-based information sources.

As the information and advice about COVID-19 vaccines continues to change, we are regularly updating the COVID-19 vaccine information in My Journey. We only use information from trusted sources.

You can also find information on the Cancer Australia and Cancer Council websites.

Is the vaccine recommended for people affected by breast cancer?

People who have weakened immune systems are more at risk of developing severe illness if they contract COVID-19. Being treated for breast cancer can weaken your immune system, so having the vaccine can help protect your health.

If you are undergoing active treatment (i.e. surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy), talk to your medical oncologist or another member of your treating team about the best time for you to get the vaccine. The advice will be based on what treatment you are having, your overall health and how your immune system is working.

Is the vaccine safe and effective for people affected by breast cancer?

In clinical trials, new vaccines are tested on people with healthy immune systems.

COVID-19 vaccines have now been given to millions of people around the world and the immune responses of people with cancer are being studied.

Some of this research has already shown that people affected by cancer can mount an immune response, but they have lower levels of protection from their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccines than people who do not have cancer. When they get their second dose their response is stronger. It is important to have both doses.

Are there side effects?

Currently there is no evidence that people affected by cancer experience worse or different side effects from COVID-19 vaccination than anyone else.

The most common side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines include:

  • pain, redness and/or swelling at the injection site
  • muscle aches
  • mild fever
  • headache
  • tiredness.

These side effects are usually mild and disappear in a day or two. Serious side effects are rare, but include a very low risk of thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS) with the AstraZeneca vaccine and myocarditis (inflammation of the heart) with the Pfizer vaccine.

If you are having immunosuppressive treatment such as chemotherapy and develop a fever above 38 degrees after getting the vaccine, it is important to contact your breast cancer specialist or hospital emergency department straight away. They will have to consider whether this is a reaction to the vaccine, or whether it is a treatment-related fever, such as an infection or neutropenia.

I have allergies – should I get the vaccine?

If you have any allergies or a history of anaphylaxis it is important to talk to your treating team before your COVID-19 vaccine, as one of the vaccines may be better for you than others.

Cancer Australia advises that the COVID-19 vaccines do include some ingredients that are also in some chemotherapy drugs. If you had a severe allergic reaction or anaphylaxis during chemotherapy, ask your medical team for advice about your COVID-19 vaccination.

Can I get COVID-19 from the vaccine?

No, none of the COVID-19 vaccines used in Australia contain the COVID-19 virus so being vaccinated cannot give you COVID-19.

Vaccines are medicines that protect you against specific diseases, such as the flu or measles. Vaccines strengthen your immune system by training it to recognise and fight specific viruses. Being vaccinated helps you to protect yourself and those around you from infection.

Where can I find out more about the vaccine?

Check out the COVID vaccine information on My Journey, which is regularly updated and includes more frequently asked questions, including how and where to get the vaccine.

Issue 88
Winter 2021