Coronavirus (COVID-19) and children’s cancer

Managing family life when you have a child with cancer can be stressful. And the constant news about the coronavirus can be worrying.

Parents and carers of children with cancer might feel especially worried about the virus. Cancer and its treatment can lower your child’s ability to fight infection. Your child with cancer and their brothers or sisters might be worried too. But children are far less likely than adults to get coronavirus. Scientists know from research that the risk of severe coronavirus disease in children is low. This includes children with cancer.

You can phone the Cancer Research UK nurses if you would like to talk to someone at this worrying time.

Talk to the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

We have information on this page about:

  • what do to if your child has any signs or symptoms of cancer
  • the guidance about coronavirus for children in the vulnerable groups
  • vaccines for children 5 years and older

Your child’s treating team can give you any updates about any changes to their treatment plan because of the coronavirus pandemic.

I’m worried my child has cancer

Children’s cancer is rare. Symptoms of cancer can be very similar to those of other childhood illnesses. And they vary between children. We have detailed information on the possible signs and symptoms of cancer in children.

It’s unlikely your concern or worry will go away without taking some action. Don’t let the current coronavirus situation put you off seeking medical care for your child.

You know what’s normal for your child. Contact your GP if you notice something that is not right. If something is seriously wrong call 999 or go to your nearest children’s (paediatric) A&E.

Your GP might arrange a phone appointment first, to find out if your child needs to be seen by a doctor. GP surgeries and hospitals are continuing to make changes to the way they work. This is so they are as safe as possible for children to get the care they need.

Children’s cancer and leukaemia group guidance (CCLG)

We are learning more about coronavirus all the time. This includes finding out coronavirus does not affect children as much as previously thought.

The CCLG has guidance for children with cancer. They update their guidance regularly.

Who is this for?

This guidance is for children and young people up to the age of 18 who:

  • are on active cancer treatment
  • have had a bone marrow or stem cell transplant

Why does the guidance change often?

Experts in children’s cancer update the guidance based on new research and evidence. They look at the data in the UK and from across the world.

Extremely vulnerable group

Earlier during the coronavirus pandemic, extremely vulnerable people were asked to shield to protect them from coming into contact with coronavirus. Shielding means staying at home and avoiding face-to-face contact.

At the moment, children in the extremely vulnerable group and their households are not advised to shield. This is because we have been learning more about how children respond to coronavirus. Children in this group should continue to follow precautions such as:

  • regular hand washing
  • avoiding contact with people who have symptoms of infection
  • avoiding crowded places

Children in the extremely vulnerable group are not recommended to attend school or nursery. This is because of the increased risk of infections other than coronavirus. This is the same as the advice given by children’s cancer experts before the coronavirus pandemic.

Your child’s healthcare team may give you different advice depending on their individual circumstances. Your child may also move from the vulnerable group to the extremely vulnerable group at certain points in their treatment.

Vulnerable group

Your child might be in the clinically vulnerable group. They are at moderate, rather than high risk, of a serious coronavirus infection. Your child’s medical team will be able to explain to you which group they are in and why. Your child might move between the groups during their treatment.

The CCLG guidance recommends that children and young people in the vulnerable group don't need to shield. This group should follow the government guidance for everyone. Children in the vulnerable group can go to school. Their siblings can also go to school. 

Schools have been working hard to make sure they are as safe as possible. And the CCLG highlights that adults remain the greatest risk for school outbreaks.

At home you should continue to:

  • wash your hands regularly
  • wipe down surfaces you touch regularly
  • avoid touching your face

Talk to your child’s healthcare team and school to help you with any of these decisions.

Coronavirus vaccines for children and young people

Four coronavirus vaccines have been approved for use in the UK:

  • Pfizer-BioNTech (5 years and over)
  • Oxford-Astra Zeneca (18 years and over)
  • Moderna (18 years and over)
  • Janssen (Johnson and Johnson) - currently not available

These vaccines have been shown to be safe and work well in adults.

The Pfizer- BioNTech vaccine has been shown to be safe and work well in healthy children. We don’t know yet how well the vaccine works in children having cancer treatment.

Vaccines for young people 16 to 18 year old

For young people aged 16 to 18, the CCLG recommend having the vaccine at an appropriate time in their treatment plan. You or your child should talk to their treating team about a suitable time. This is a good time to also ask any questions you have about the vaccine.

PEG asparaginase is a drug used to treat young people with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL). Some people have an allergic reaction to PEG asparaginase. Where this has happened in the past, these young people should have the Pfizer-BioNTech in hospital where possible. This is so they can be monitored for any reactions.

Vaccinations for children 12 to 15 year old

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has said that children and young people under the age of 18 who are at increased risk of severe COVID-19 should get the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. This includes children aged 12 to 15 with a weakened immune system. The CCLG have a list on their website of which children with cancer this includes. 

The recommendation is to have 2 doses, 8 to 12 weeks apart. Speak to your child’s treatment team. They can let you know when a suitable time to get the vaccine would be.

The committee has also said that people aged 12 to 17 who live with someone with a weakened immune system should get 2 doses of the vaccine. This is to help protect their household members.

Talk to your child’s healthcare team if you have any questions.

Vaccinations for children 5 to 11 year old

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has published advice about COVID-19 vaccinations for 5 to 11 year olds. For people with cancer the advice says that children should have the vaccine if:

  • they are at higher risk of getting very unwell from coronavirus. This includes children with cancer who have a weakened immune system. This might be due to cancer treatment. These treatments include steroid medicine, biological therapy, chemotherapy or radiotherapy
  • a child who shares a home with someone of any age who has a weakened immune system. They say that they must live there most of the time and that close contact is unavoidable 

The JCVI says that children in these groups should get 2 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. They can have the jabs 8 weeks apart. The dose of each jab is smaller than those for people older than 12 years old. The vaccine is not available as a nasal spray like with flu.

Children who are about to have planned treatment that lowers their immune system should have the jabs before starting.

How will I know if my child should have the jabs?

GPs and hospital specialists will work out which 5 to 11 year olds should have the COVID-19 vaccine.

So, if you’re a parent or guardian, the NHS will contact you to let you know that your child should get the vaccine. They will tell you how to book an appointment. Don’t contact your GP practice.

For children who are household contacts, the person who has a weakened immune system will receive a letter to inform them. 

As a parent you will need to give consent for your child to get the jabs.

Where will my child have their jab?

Vaccination centres will try to have appointments available at flexible times. This way they can fit it around families’ work and school commitments.   

Your child is likely to have their jab at a vaccination service run by:

  • local GPs
  • a hospital
  • a specialist children’s centre

Where the above services are not available, they might have their jab:

  • at community pharmacies
  • in vaccination centres
  • at hospital hubs
  • by housebound teams
  • in special schools

Services will try to accommodate your child’s needs where possible. They will try to make it a positive experience for you and your child. Let them know in advance if your child has specific requirements when booking the appointment.

Staff will have enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks. They are trained in working with children and those with special education needs and disabilities.

Walk-in appointments

You can also take your child to a walk-in appointment. Remember not every site will be able to offer jabs for this age group. So, check the online walk-in site finder (www.nhs.uk/vaccine-walk-in).

You may prefer a walk-in appointment. If this is the case take the letter from your child’s GP or hospital doctor confirming that they should have the jab.

What if my local GP has opted out of giving vaccines to this age group?

If your GP has opted out they have to identify children who should get the vaccine. They have to ensure that they get a letter for vaccination at another local site.

Third vaccine doses

The JCVI recommends offering a third dose, or ‘top up’, of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine to some children and young people. They can have the third jab if both of the following apply:

  • your child is 5 years and older
  • they had a very weakened immune system when they had their first or second dose

They can have the third jab 8 weeks after their second dose.

This can include children and young people with leukaemia.

Talk to your child's treatment team about a suitable time for the third vaccine.

Booster vaccines

The JCVI recommends that the following children and young people could have a booster dose:

  • those aged 16 to 17 years
  • children and young people aged 12 to 15 who are at higher risk from COVID-19
  • those aged 12 to 15 years who are household contacts of people with weakened immune systems of any age 

The booster dose is different from the third vaccine. The third vaccine is for children and young people who had a very weakened immune system when they had their first or second dose. The booster vaccine is given 3 months after the third vaccine.

Vaccinations for parents and carers

Everyone over the age of 18 can now have the vaccine.

Talk to your GP or you can book your vaccine by going to the NHS website.

After treatment

Get in touch with your child’s treating team about vaccination if your child finished treatment more than 6 months ago. They can give you advice on your child's situation.

The CCLG also cover current guidance on their website.

I need help and support

It is important to look after yourself as well during this time. It’s a very challenging time, especially without the additional support of family and friends. Try not to be too hard on yourself.

There is a lot of support available to help you and your family.

Cancer Research UK Information Nurses

For support and information, you can call the Cancer Research UK information nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. They can give advice about who can help you and what kind of support is available.

Children's cancer organisations

We have more information on different children's cancer organisations. You can contact for them for information, help and support. 

CCLG and CLIC Sargent COVID-19 additional advice and support

The CCLG and CLIC Sargent have been working together to provide extra information on COVID-19 and children’s cancer. This includes help with:

  • welfare issues (with citizens advice)
  • food and shopping
  • family life

Mind

The Mind website has a wellbeing hub with advice on how to protect your mental health during coronavirus. It has practical advice on coping.

NHS Every Mind Matters Website

The NHS Every Mind Matters website has expert advice and practical tips to help you look after your mental health and wellbeing.

More information

Go to the CCLG website to get more details on the coronavirus guidance. They explain which children are in the vulnerable and extremely vulnerable groups.

The UK Government has information for people previously called clinically extremely vulnerable.

Related links