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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. It's also rare for children to pass coronavirus to other children. 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 having, or who’ve finished, cancer treatment

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 hospitals and wards are open and specialist teams are available.

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. This has meant the CCLG have updated their guidance. It was last updated in March 2021 with information about changes to the government advice about shielding.

Who is this for?

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

  • are having treatment for cancer
  • have had a bone marrow or stem cell transplant

Why has the guidance changed?

Experts in children’s cancer update the guidance based on new research and evidence. We know that fewer children than adults get the coronavirus infection. And only a small number of children with cancer in the UK have tested positive for coronavirus. Most of them have had a very mild disease.

The experts have looked at the data in the UK and from across the world. This has shown that the risk of a severe coronavirus infection in children with cancer is low.

Extremely vulnerable group

Shielding means staying at home and avoiding face-to-face contact. The aim is to protect extremely vulnerable people from coming into contact with coronavirus.

At the moment, children in the extremely vulnerable group and their household are not advised to shield. This is because the rates of coronavirus are much lower than over the autumn and winter. 

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.

Schools reopened in March and the CCLG supports siblings of children in the extremely vulnerable group going to school. We understand that this means that they will be in contact with other children. But the research shows the risk of a child passing coronavirus to another child is much lower than between adults. Adults in the household should work from home where possible. 

At home you should continue to:

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

We know this is a change if your child has been shielding. We advise talking to your child’s medical team and school to help you with any of these decisions.

The CCLG will review their guidance on shielding for children in the extremely vulnerable group as more information becomes available.

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. Schools reopened in March and the CCLG supports children in the vulnerable group going 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

We advise talking to your child’s medical team and school to help you with any of these decisions.

More information

Please 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 about what you can and cannot do at the moment.

Home schooling

The Government has online educational resources for schools and parents to help children to learn at home during the coronavirus outbreak.

Coronavirus vaccines

Three coronavirus vaccines have been approved for use in the UK for adults:

  • Pfizer-BioNTech (16 years and over)
  • Oxford-Astra Zeneca (18 years and over)
  • Moderna (18 years and over)

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

Scientists need to carefully look at if any vaccines are safe and work well for children under 16. Researchers expect that some trials of coronavirus vaccines will include children and young people with cancer towards the end of 2021.

The CCLG and other experts advise there is no evidence to recommend children younger than 16 should have a vaccine at the moment.

Vaccinations for young people between 16 to 18 having treatment

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.

The Oxford Asta-Zeneca and Moderna vaccines are only licensed from 18 years old. But the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) recommend that these can be used for 16 and 17 year olds, if the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is not available.

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 not receive the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine.

After treatment

Most young people who completed cancer treatment (not including a stem cell transplant) more than 6 months ago are not considered at increased risk from coronavirus. This means they are not offered a vaccine at the moment.

Vaccinations for children under the age of 16

There are no coronavirus vaccines licensed for use in children under 16. At the moment, your child should not offered a vaccine even if they are in the extremely vulnerable group. More research will need to be done in children first.

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

There is different guidance if your child has a severe neurodisability and they:

  • have frequent chest infections
  • spend a lot of time in a residential care setting for children with complex needs

Talk to your consultant if this is the case for your child.

Vaccinations for parents and carers

Parents and main carers of children in the clinically extremely vulnerable group can now have the vaccine.

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

You can feel more in control by eating a balanced diet, staying physically active and looking after your mental wellbeing.

We have tips on how to stay physically and mentally healthy during lockdown.

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
  • going outside

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 with staying at home and updates on how the new coronavirus laws could affect your rights.

It has a section for young people who are struggling with their mental health during the pandemic.

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. It shows you where to get urgent support through this stressful time.

Last reviewed: 
14 Apr 2021
Next review due: 
14 Jun 2021
  • COVID-19 guidance for children and young people with cancer undergoing treatment

    Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group, Updated 31st March 2021

  • Guidance on shielding and protecting people defined on medical grounds as extremely vulnerable from COVID-19

    Public Health England, Updated 1st April 2021

  • (COVID-19) Coronavirus restrictions: what you can and cannot do

    Cabinet Office, updated 14 April 2021