Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine and cancer

Specialists say that it is important for people with cancer to have the vaccine, and it is safe. Your cancer treatment can also go ahead if you've had the vaccine.

  • An autumn booster programme started in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
  • Vaccines called bivalent vaccines are being used. They protect against the original coronavirus strain and the Omicron variant.
  • People who haven't had a coronavirus vaccine yet can still get their first (primary) course.

The following vaccines are used in the UK. They are made by:

  • Pfizer-BioNTech
  • Moderna
  • Novavax

The AstraZeneca vaccine used before is no longer being supplied for routine use in the UK.

What is a vaccine?

A vaccine is a type of medicine. It trains the body's immune system Open a glossary item to fight a disease it has not come into contact with before. For infectious illnesses, vaccines try to prevent people from becoming ill with a disease.

COVID-19 vaccines

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) approved the following vaccines for use in the UK:

  • Pfizer-BioNTech
  • Moderna
  • Novavax

Bivalent vaccines

  • Pfizer -BioNTech bivalent 
  • Moderna bivalent

Bivalent vaccines protect against the original coronavirus strain and the Omicron variant. You may get these or the original Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine as an autumn booster. Which vaccine you'll get will depend on availability.

VaccineHow it worksDoses - first (primary) course (JCVI)Storage
Pfizer-BioNTech This vaccine is an mRNA vaccine and doesn't contain a live virus. mRNA vaccines work by carrying a 'genetic message' to your cells. They instruct them to make antigens. This prepares the immune system to make antibodies to fight the virus.2 doses 8 weeks apart-70°C
ModernaThis vaccine is also an mRNA vaccine.2 doses 8 weeks apart-20°C
NovavaxUnlike the other vaccines, this vaccine has a protein that mimics the coronavirus spike protein. This version of the spike protein, along with another ingredient that also stimulates the immune system, helps the body to produce antibodies and T-cells.2 doses 8 weeks apart2 to 8°C

If you're about to start treatment that will cause a weakened immune system

Some people might have the second dose of their first course of the vaccine sooner than 8 weeks apart. This can be if you're about to start treatment which may cause a weakened immune system Open a glossary item. Your immune system might still be able to create antibodies Open a glossary item if you have the second dose sooner. So, you might have the second dose of:

  • Pfizer-BioNTech 3 weeks later
  • Moderna 4 weeks later
  • Novavax 3 weeks later

Pfizer and Moderna as booster jabs

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) make suggestions about vaccines. They suggested that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are the booster jabs of choice. Research has shown that they work well as booster jabs.

If you have severe allergies

If you can't have the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines due to allergies, you might be able to have the Novavax vaccine. 

Talk to your GP or healthcare team if you have questions about your situation.

Who can have the autumn 2022 booster jab?

The autumn 2022 booster jab will be given alongside the flu jab. This means you can have the two jabs at the same time if you are eligible.

JCVI says that people who can have a Covid booster jab are those:

  • who live or work in care homes for older adults
  • who work as frontline health and social care workers
  • 50 years and older
  • aged 5 to 49 years with a health condition that puts them at higher risk of becoming ill with severe COVID-19. This includes people with cancer who have a weakened immune system. It also includes people with blood cancers and those taking steroids for longer than a month
  • those aged 5 to 49 years who are household contacts of people with a weakened immune system
  • those aged 16 to 49 years who are carers

How will the autumn booster programme work?

In England, the programme started with people in care homes and those that are housebound. From 12 September 2022, it included the oldest (75 and over) and people with weakened immune systems. After that, other groups will be invited.

In Scotland, the programme started with people in care homes, followed by health and social care workers.

In Wales, it started with people and staff in care homes.

The booster programme started in Northern Ireland on 19 September 2022 with people and staff in care homes.

You can have the autumn booster at least 3 months after your last dose of vaccine.

You are encouraged to have the autumn 2022 booster even if you had the spring 2022 booster jab.

If you haven't had all your Covid jabs

If you haven't yet had your first 2 doses (primary course) of the vaccine (or a third dose for people with a weakened immune system) you should have them as soon as possible. You can then have the autumn booster 3 months after your last dose if eligible.

If you are in the eligible groups above and had your first 2 doses (3 if you have a weakened immune system) of the vaccines, but not a booster before September 2022, you may have the autumn booster. It must be 3 months since your last dose. You don't need any other doses.

How do I book an appointment for the autumn booster?


If you have a severely weakened immune system, you can self declare. That means you say what your diagnosis is, what treatment you're having and why you need a booster. You can go to a walk in vaccination centre to get your jab. You don't have to wait for a letter. Take any doctor's or hospital letters with you if you have any.

You may receive a letter inviting you to book your jab. People are being asked to wait for their invitations before booking an appointment.

Or, if eligible, you can book an appointment online or by phoning 119.

You can have the autumn booster after at least 3 months have passed since your last jab.


Call 0800 030 8013 to book or book through the NHS Inform website.


Book through your health board on the Welsh Government website.

Northern Ireland

Call 0300 200 7813 to book or book through the Health and Social Care Northern Ireland website.

Vaccine side effects

Severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis)

People with a history of a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to the following should not have the vaccines:

  • a vaccine
  • medicine
  • food

Speak to your healthcare team or GP if you suffer from severe allergies. They can refer you to a doctor who specialises in allergies. They are called allergists or immunologists. They can do tests and suggest which vaccine might be safe for you.

Swollen lymph nodes

A side effect of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines is lymph node swelling. You might have swollen lymph nodes in the armpit of the arm that had the vaccine. A review of research shows that swelling can last for more than 5 weeks in some people. Talk to your doctor if you are worried about swollen lymph nodes.

Other side effects

People are often worried about the side effects of vaccines. Your healthcare team or GP will be able to give you advice about your situation. It is best to do this before going for the vaccine.

The vaccinator at the vaccination centre will also give you advice. They will talk to you about the general side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines.

How well do the vaccines work for people with cancer?

Specialists agree that the vaccines are safe for most people. It includes those having systemic anti cancer therapy (SACT). (Please see questions further down on this page). Systemic anti cancer therapy includes treatments such as chemotherapy. It can cause a weakened immune system Open a glossary item.

A weakened immune system means it might not work as normal. It can't protect the body against infections.

So, having the vaccines with a weakened immune system may cause the body to not form enough antibodies. As a result, it might not create enough antibodies to give protection against the virus.

This means that people with a weakened immune system, who had the vaccine, should continue to protect themselves. This way they can reduce their risk of infection.

Studies on how well the vaccines work for people with cancer 

Several studies have now published results on how well the vaccines work for people with cancer. In general, it showed that if you have a weakened immune system Open a glossary item you might have less protection against the virus.

People with blood cancer in particular have less protection. This is when compared to people with solid cancers.

Protection against the virus does increase after the third jab. This includes people with blood cancers. The CAPTURE study has shown that a third dose of the vaccine increases the number of antibodies against Omicron.

For people with a solid cancer, the number of people with antibodies increase from 39 out of 100 people (39%) to 90 out of 100 people (90%).

For people with blood cancer, about 50 out of every 100 (50%) people had antibodies against the Omicron variant. This is compared to 19 out of 100 people (19%) after 2 doses.

Unfortunately, people with blood cancer might still be at the greatest risk of becoming severely ill from the virus. So, people with blood cancer should continue to take extra care to protect themselves. It is important that they have a third vaccine as well as a booster jab.

Speak to your healthcare team if you are uncertain about your risk of getting ill with COVID-19.

You can read more about these studies on our clinical trials database. Follow the links below or read the Cancer Research UK Science blog.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine and cancer treatment

Talk to your doctor or specialist nurse for specific advice for your circumstances. 

The information below is about the following vaccines:

  • Pfizer-BioNTech
  • AstraZeneca-Oxford
  • Moderna

It is only a guide.

Specialists say that everyone having SACT should be considered for the vaccine. Your cancer treatment can also go ahead if you've had the vaccine. There is no need for your treatment to be delayed because of it.

Can I have the vaccine when I’m having immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy can trigger an increased immune response causing side effects. But there is not enough evidence that it might happen with these vaccines. Specialists say that the benefit of having the vaccine should be weighed against the risk of not having it and becoming ill with COVID-19.

People having immunotherapy can have the vaccine at any time in their treatment cycle.

Can I have the vaccine when I’m taking part in a clinical trial?

You can have the vaccine when on a clinical trial for SACT. Unfortunately, if the trial criteria say you may not have a vaccine or exclude people who have had the vaccine, you will not be able to have it.

When is the best time to have the vaccine when I’m having treatment?

Whenever possible you will have the vaccine before you start treatment. Ideally, you should have the vaccine 2 weeks before you start your first cycle of SACT. Or you should have it at the time of diagnosis, or pre or post surgery where possible.

You can have the second dose of your vaccine 3 or 4 weeks from the first dose or as soon as practically possible following the first dose.

If you had a very weakened immune system when you had your first or second dose, you should have a third jab.

If you are already having treatment, your doctor will discuss with you when it is best to have the vaccine. Generally, doctors say that it is best not to have it on the day of chemotherapy.

Can I have the vaccine if I have low levels of white blood cells (neutropenia)?

Ideally, you should not have an injection if you are unwell with neutropenia and until your level of white blood cells is back to normal.

People who have chronic neutropenia should have the vaccine.

Can I have the vaccine if I have low platelets or a bleeding disorder?

Your healthcare team will decide when it is safe for you to have the injection. It will depend on your level of platelets and the risk of bleeding.

Can I have the vaccine if I've recently had an autologous (your own) or allogeneic (donor) stem cell transplant?

People who've had a stem cell transplant can have any of the 3 vaccines. Specialists say that if you’ve had an autologous stem cell transplant, you can have the vaccine 2 months after the transplant. If you’ve had an allogeneic stem cell transplant, you can have the vaccine 3 to 6 months after your transplant.

The following people might have to wait a little longer before having the vaccine:

  • those with Graft versus Host Disease (GvHD)
  • those receiving high dose steroids protection
  • those taking  immunosuppressant drugs

This is because they still have weakened immune systems.

Talk to your healthcare team to find out when would be the best time for you to have the vaccine.

Can I have the vaccine if I've had CAR-T therapy?

Talk to your healthcare team to find out whether you can have the vaccine if you've had CAR-T therapy.

I am having radiotherapy, can I have the vaccine?

The vaccine is recommended for people having radiotherapy and you can have it during treatment. This is because it doesn't affect your immune system like chemotherapy and other cancer drug treatment does. 

I am going to have surgery, can I have the vaccine? 

Having surgery in itself is not a reason not to have the vaccine. Wherever possible people having surgery should have the vaccine at least 1 week before surgery.

I had cancer treatment to my lymph nodes, can I have the vaccine?

People who had surgery to remove their lymph nodes, or who had radiotherapy to their lymph nodes, are at risk of lymphoedema. Injections in an arm on the side of lymph node treatment can trigger lymphoedema. You should ask to have the vaccine on the opposite arm of your cancer treatment. If you had treatment on both sides, you should have the vaccine in your thigh.

More information

You can read more about what the COVID-19 vaccine means for people with cancer. Follow the link to the Cancer Research UK science blog.

Related links