The coronavirus vaccine and young people with cancer: your questions answered

Anniela Etheridge, a Senior Clinical Pharmacist for Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust

Anniela Etheridge, a Senior Clinical Pharmacist for Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust

Millions of people in the UK have now had at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. If you’re a young person with cancer, it’s natural to have questions. That’s why we asked Anniela Etheridge, a Senior Clinical Pharmacist for Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust to answer some of the biggest questions you might have. Remember – if you have questions about your care, you should always speak to your clinical care team.

I’m worried about getting the coronavirus vaccine - why should I have it?

Having the vaccine is a very personal decision that only you can make.

The vaccine not only helps to protect us from coronavirus but those around us – our friends, family and wider community.

It has been a year now since the first dose of coronavirus vaccine was given in the UK and the success of the vaccination programme, in combination with restrictions, have meant the numbers of coronavirus related hospital admissions and deaths have reduced massively.

Vaccination helps you build immunity to the virus, so your body will stop the infection more easily. This can reduce your risk of becoming infected with coronavirus or make your symptoms milder. This is especially important to consider if you have been classed as clinically extremely vulnerable, or clinically vulnerable, as you may be more likely to be very unwell if you were to catch coronavirus.

If you decided not to have the vaccine but change your mind later on – that’s ok! The vaccine will still be available to you.

Do I still have to follow recommendations if I’ve had the coronavirus vaccine?

It’s important we all help to reduce the spread of coronavirus once we have had the vaccine, even after having multiple doses.

And even though many restrictions have lifted it is still really important to continue to protect ourselves and each other, and to help make everyone feel safe.

That includes making sure you’re aware of any restrictions or advice still in place for where you live or are visiting, and by doing things like meeting with others outside where possible, covering our face, and keeping space between us.

You might feel especially reassured by people around you continuing to do these things if you were previously identified as clinically vulnerable to coronavirus.

How will I know when I can have my coronavirus vaccination?

Unfortunately, there have been some scam emails and texts. You do not have to pay for the NHS vaccine, or confirm bank details in order to register. Always make sure any links you’re using are real.

If you’re over 16

If you are over 16 years of age you can book your appointment online or your GP may contact you to make an appointment at your GP or another local NHS centre.

There may also be walk-in centres locally to where you live. You can find out if there’s a centre near you on the NHS website.

If you’re under 16

Everyone over the age of 12 years old will now be offered the coronavirus vaccine. Most 12–15-year-olds will be offered the vaccine in school, but if you have an underlying health condition, you may be offered it at your GP or elsewhere. If you’re unsure about where you can get your vaccine, you should check with your GP or call 119.

If you’re under the age of 16, you’ll need your parent or guardian’s consent to get the vaccine. Find out more about consent from Gov.uk.

You can find more information about booking your vaccines and manage your appointments on the NHS website.

How many doses of the coronavirus vaccine will I get?

All young people over the age of 12 will now be offered two doses of the vaccine.

If you are between 12 – 17 years old and you’re at a greater risk of serious illness because of underlying health conditions, you’ll receive the first two doses of the vaccine around eight weeks apart.  If you don’t have underlying health condition you’ll get two doses of the vaccine around 12 weeks apart.

Some people between 12 and 17 who are severely immunosuppressed (or were at the time of your first dose) - including some people with cancer - may be given a third primary dose of the vaccine at least eight weeks after receiving your second dose.

This is not the same as the ‘booster’, it is an extra ‘top-up’ dose to provide extra protection for those who may not have had a full immune response to the first two doses and is sometimes referred to as the “third primary vaccine”.

Everyone over the age of 18 will also be offered a ‘booster’, dose of the vaccine.

If you have questions about whether you might be eligible for this you should speak to your clinical team. You can also find more information on the third dose on the government and NHS websites.

Adults over 16 years old who have health conditions which put them at greater risk of being extremely unwell from coronavirus, and adults who live with someone who is immunosuppressed, will be offered a booster.

Booster doses will be given at least 6 months after your 2nd dose of vaccine.

You will be contacted if you are eligible for the booster, but if you have any questions, you should speak to your GP or clinical care team.

Is there a difference in which coronavirus vaccine you should have as a young person with cancer?

There are currently four coronavirus vaccines that have been approved for use in the UK -  Pfizer-BioNTech (also known as Comirnaty®), Oxford-Astra Zeneca (also known as Vaxzevria®), Moderna (also known as Spikevax®) and Janssen (which will be available later in 2021).

Vaccination centres may be administering one or all of the available vaccines at different times. But all approved vaccines have been shown to offer effective protection against the virus. Because of how the vaccine works, young people who are immunosuppressed at the time of the vaccination will still get some protection.

There is no evidence to suggest that young people with cancer should receive a particular coronavirus vaccine.

But everyone under the age of 40 will be offered an alternative to the Oxford-Astra Zeneca vaccine, because of a possible link to very rare blood clots in a small number of people.

If you’re under 18 years old you’ll be offered the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. This may change in time, so always check if you’re not sure which you’re being offered.

If you’re eligible for a booster jab (or third primary vaccine) and you are under 18, you’ll have Pfizer-BioNTech.

If you are over 18 you may be offered either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna for your booster or third primary vaccine.

If you have any questions about which vaccine you’ll be offered, always talk to your GP or care team. Whichever vaccine you’re advised to get, rest assured that all those approved for use in the UK have been shown to be effective against becoming seriously ill from coronavirus.

What happens on the day of my coronavirus vaccination?

If you’re having your vaccine at your local pharmacy, GP surgery or vaccination centre it’s useful to have the appointment letter, text, email or screenshot with you on the day when you arrive.  

Unless you are medically exempt, you will need to wear a mask. There’ll probably be plenty of hand sanitiser available but you can also bring your own.

You’ll be told ahead of time whether someone can come in with you or not.

Try to arrive as close to your appointment time as possible – this is to avoid queues of people outside the centre.

It’s helpful to wear a T-shirt or similar so the top of your arm is easily accessible – this will help speed up the process when you are there.

These centres are incredibly well run with one-way systems and plenty of space. All the staff will be wearing appropriate PPE (Personal Protective Equipment such as aprons and masks) to help protect everyone.

There will be loads of staff and volunteers helping at these centres so if you get there and you feel a bit overwhelmed just have a chat with someone and they will be able to take you somewhere quiet.

You’ll be asked some questions when you arrive and will be asked to sign a form to say that you agree to have the vaccine. Staff will be on hand to help with this.

The injection itself only takes a few moments and may feel like a sharp scratch in your upper arm.

You will be given a card with your name, date and which vaccination you have been given. It’s important to keep this safe and bring it with you if you have a second dose. A note that you have had your vaccination will be put on your GP records too.

Depending on your age or circumstances, you may have booked your second dose already, or you may have to arrange this once you’ve had your first. This will be explained to you when you attend for your first dose of vaccine.

You may need to wait after your vaccine has been given to you, just to check you’re OK. If that’s the case you’ll be told where to wait, and for how long.

If you’re having your vaccine at school

If you’re aged 12-15 and you don’t have an underlying health condition then you’re likely to have your vaccination at school. Your school will arrange vaccinations and will let you know where to go and when. They’ll also say if you need to bring anything with you.

If you’re under the age of 16, you’ll need your parent or guardian’s consent to get the vaccine. Find out more about consent from Gov.uk.

The injection itself only takes a few moments and may feel like a sharp scratch in your upper arm.

You will be given a card with your name, date and which vaccination you have been given. It’s important to keep this safe. A note that you have had your vaccination will be put on your GP records too.

You may need to wait after your vaccine has been given to you, just to check you’re OK. If that’s the case you’ll be told where to wait, and for how long.

I’ve had a severe allergic reaction in the past. Is it safe to have the coronavirus vaccine?

The information about the vaccines and people with allergies has changed several times since we started vaccinating, as we now have lots more information about side effects and allergic reactions.

The current guidance is that you should not have the COVID-19 vaccine if you have ever had a serious allergic reaction (including anaphylaxis) to:

  • a previous dose of the same COVID-19 vaccine
  • any of the ingredients in the vaccines

The MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Authority) who approved the vaccines in the UK and who look at all the side effects reported, have confirmed that even people with severe allergies to foods or other medicines can now have the COVID-19 vaccines.

If you are worried about your allergies, have a chat with your doctor, pharmacist or specialist nurse who will be able to check the lists of ingredients with you.

Serious allergic reactions to the coronavirus vaccines are rare. If you do have a reaction to the vaccine, it usually happens within minutes of getting the vaccine and staff at the vaccination centres are trained to deal with allergic reactions and treat them immediately.

Will there be any side effects to the coronavirus vaccine?

Millions of people in the UK have received the vaccine so we have lots of information now about side effects.

A sore and achy arm after the vaccine is the most common side effect with some people experiencing mild side effects like a headache, feeling tired, joint and muscle aches and chills for a couple of days.

Information about the coronavirus vaccine may change

The information on this page was up to date at the time of writing. But guidelines, processes and advice is always subject to change. So always make sure you check the latest information from the NHS website. And if you ever have questions, always check with your GP or clinical care team.