Coronavirus vaccine and pancreatic cancer

Find out about the coronavirus vaccine and what this means for people with pancreatic cancer.

There are three coronavirus vaccines available in the UK – the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, and the Moderna vaccine.

This information was accurate when it was published, and we update it regularly, but things are changing quickly. Check the current situation in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Who can have the coronavirus vaccine?

The vaccine is being offered to everyone over the age of 12. If you are at higher risk from coronavirus but haven’t yet had the vaccine, get in touch with the NHS in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

The NHS are contacting people who are eligible for the vaccine. You can also book a vaccine yourself.

Some treatments for pancreatic cancer, such as chemotherapy and some radiotherapy and steroids, may lower your immunity. If you have not yet had the vaccine and are about to start any of these treatments, your doctors should consider giving you the vaccine before you start the treatment. If you are due to start any of these treatments, speak to your doctor about the vaccine.

It is important that you have all doses of the vaccine when it is offered to you, as it should protect you from coronavirus.

Booster vaccines

Booster vaccines should help to give your longer term protection from coronavirus. They will be available on the NHS, and will be offered to people at higher risk from coronavirus and older people first.

The government have announced that people who are 75 or older, and those who have lower immunity (immunosuppressed), for example due chemotherapy, will be able to have another booster in spring 2022. You will have this between three and six months from your last dose, but ideally about six months. Read more about this.

You may need to provide evidence that you are immunosuppressed when you have the vaccine. Evidence includes:

  • a hospital letter describing your condition
  • evidence of a prescribed medicine at the time of your previous booster – either in a hospital letter that describes the medicine, a prescription copy or a medicine box with your name and the date on it.

If you don’t have this evidence, explain this when you go for the vaccine.

Most people will be offered a booster dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine or Moderna vaccine.

Read more about the booster dose.

Do I need a third dose?

People who had a weakened immune system when they had their first two doses of the vaccine are being offered a third dose. You might have a weakened immune system if you were having chemotherapy or radiotherapy in the six months before you had your first two doses.

This is because chemotherapy and radiotherapy affect your body’s immune system, so the vaccine doesn’t work as well as usual during and for a short time after, these treatments. There is now some evidence that if you had the vaccine while your immune system was affected by these treatments, you may not get as much benefit from two doses as other people. So a third dose is now recommended to ‘top up’ your protection levels.

A third dose is different to the booster. A third dose improves your protection against coronavirus. A booster dose will mean that you are protected for longer.

You may not have the same type of vaccine for your third dose as for the first two. Studies now show that it is safe to mix the different types of vaccine (Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca). It may even give slightly better protection from the virus. Your medical team will decide which type is right for you.

You will be sent a letter by your GP if you need a third dose. You will need to take the letter with you when you get your third dose. If you haven’t received a letter but think you should be eligible for a third dose, speak to your GP or hospital doctor. You can book the third dose on the NHS website. You should get it at least 8 weeks after your second dose, ideally at least 2 weeks after finishing chemotherapy or radiotherapy. If you are still having treatment you should talk to your consultant about when is the right time for you to have the third vaccination. Your medical team will advise you on the best timing for you.

Read more about the third dose.

If you have had a third dose, you should also be offered a booster dose. You should have this at least 3 months after having your third dose.

Where will I have the vaccine?

You will be told where to go to get the vaccine when you book it. This may be at a hospital, vaccine centre or your GP surgery.

How well does the vaccine work?

The vaccines have been shown to work well in clinical trials, where they have been tested on thousands of people. Analysis by Public Health England shows that all the vaccines are also effective against the Delta variant of COVID-19.

The vaccine will protect most people from coronavirus, including clinically vulnerable people. You will need to have all doses available to you to get the best protection. A study of 1 million people by Public Health England showed that the vaccine was more effective in people at higher risk from coronavirus after both doses. So it is very important to get both doses of the vaccine.

There is some evidence that a small number of people with cancer may have lower levels of antibody response than the general population. Your body makes antibodies when you get an infection. This is an antibody response. Antibodies help the body fight the infection. We don’t yet fully understand what lower levels of antibodies mean, but it may mean some people with cancer are not as well protected from COVID-19. Some people will be offered a third dose of the vaccine and then a booster to improve their protection. The NHS is also running a survey for cancer patients, to try to find out more about the protection people with cancer have after having the vaccine.

You should continue to follow the guidance to protect yourself from coronavirus, especially if you are at higher risk of getting ill from coronavirus. There is a small chance that you could still get coronavirus even if you have had the vaccine, although it should be less severe.

How safe is the vaccine?

The vaccines have been shown to be safe in the clinical trials. For a vaccine to be approved for use in the UK, it has to meet strict safety standards. The vaccines are safe for people having treatments that affect their immune system, such as chemotherapy. Tell the person giving you the vaccine about any cancer treatments you are having.

You can’t catch coronavirus from the vaccine. Some people may have mild side effects from the vaccine, such as a headache, feeling tired, general aches or mild flu-like symptoms.

Anybody who has previously had a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to a vaccine, some medicines or household products may not be able to have the vaccine. Tell staff before you are vaccinated if you have ever had a serious allergic reaction.

There is more information about the vaccine on the NHS website.

If you have any questions about the vaccine and pancreatic cancer, you can speak to our specialist nurses on our free Support Line.

Speak to our specialist nurses
Specialist nurse Rachel

Updated: 30 March 2022