COVID-19 vaccines: what you need to know

This page was updated on May 14.

Due to decreased demand, the Fred Hutch/SCCA COVID-19 Vaccination Program is no longer offering first doses of the vaccine and will give its final second dose on June 5. Patients and caregivers can get the vaccine by appointment only at SCCA’s South Lake Union clinic and SCCA at UWMC – Northwest and EvergreenHealth. Read below for more information. 

Who is currently eligible to receive the vaccine?

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is FDA approved for people 12 and older. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are FDA approved for people 18 years and older. 

How do I schedule my vaccine?

SCCA’s South Lake Union clinic and SCCA at UWMC – Northwest and EvergreenHealth are offering the vaccine to patients and caregivers by appointment only. If you need a COVID-19 vaccine, please talk to your care team or visit Vaccinate Washington’s vaccine locator.

Availability

When will people with cancer be able to get the vaccine?

Most people with cancer should be able to get the vaccine now, as supply allows. See “Who is eligible to get the vaccine?” for details.

For information on vaccine safety and cancer, please see “Vaccine safety and guidelines for people with cancer” below.

Which vaccine does SCCA offer?

We will offer you whichever vaccine we have available at the time of your appointment.

Vaccine safety and guidelines for people with cancer

Should people with cancer get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Although COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to be safe and effective in the general population, data on their effectiveness in people who are immunocompromised is unknown. Currently the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) and other major cancer organizations recommend that COVID-19 vaccines should be given to all people with cancer when they are eligible to receive the vaccine, based on the following guidelines. These guidelines may change over time as more data is gathered. Updates will be posted on this page and on the NCCN page.

 

Type of patient

Vaccine timing

Patients receiving care at the Blood and Marrow Transplant Clinic or Bezos Family Immunotherapy Clinic

  • Autologous and allogeneic transplant and immunotherapy patients must be at least 3 months post-transplant/treatment.
  • Patients on 1 mg/kg or more of steroids such as prednisone should talk to their providers to determine the best time for vaccination.

Patients with hematologic malignancies

  • Patients receiving intensive cytotoxic chemotherapy (e.g. cytarabine/anthracycline- based induction regimens for AML) should wait until absolute neutrophil count (ANC) recovery.
  • Patients with marrow failure from disease and/or therapy expected to have limited or no recovery, as well as those on long-term maintenance therapy (e.g., targeted agents for chronic lymphocytic leukemia or myeloproliferative neoplasms) should be vaccinated when vaccine is available.

Patients with solid tumors

Patients should be vaccinated when vaccine is available.

Patients currently enrolled in a clinical trial

Patients should contact their clinical or research team to confirm if they are eligible to receive the vaccine.

Patients with upcoming major surgery

Patients should separate their date of surgery from their date of vaccination by at least a few days.

Patients who have received another vaccine

Patients should wait for 14 days before they get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Should pregnant and breastfeeding mothers get the vaccine?

Pregnant and breastfeeding women should get the vaccine once it is available to them. We know that:

  • Pregnant or breastfeeding women were not included in the COVID-19 clinical trials.
  • The risk of maternal or fetal harm from an mRNA vaccine is unknown but thought to be low.
  • COVID-19 disease carries an increased risk in pregnancy. This is particularly true for patients with obesity or other medical conditions.

The UW Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Society of Maternal-Fetal Medicine and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists support offering the COVID-19 vaccine to pregnant and breastfeeding patients.

Please speak to your doctor if you are concerned or have more questions.

How do we really know that COVID-19 vaccines are safe?

COVID-19 vaccines were tested in large clinical trials to make sure they meet safety standards. Many people were recruited to participate in these trials to see how the vaccines offer protection to people of different ages, races and ethnicities, as well as those with different medical conditions. The rate of serious adverse events in the vaccine trials was low. Additional data on long-term safety will be available with more time and as more people get vaccinated.

The FDA and CDC have surveillance systems in place to monitor the safety of COVID-19 vaccines. In mid-April, these agencies temporarily paused the use of the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccine to investigate a rare but serious type of blood clot reported in individuals who received the vaccine. After conducting a thorough safety review, the FDA and CDC recommended resuming use of the vaccine with a warning about the risk of these rare adverse events. The warning only applies to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and not the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which use a different technology. Visit the CDC website for more information about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Will the vaccine give me COVID-19?

No, it is not possible to get COVID-19 from vaccines. The new COVID-19 vaccines use inactivated SARS-CoV-2 virus, parts of the virus (like the spike protein) or a gene from the virus. None of these can cause COVID-19.

What are the side effects of the vaccine?

Vaccine side effects may be unpleasant but are not dangerous. In clinical trials, some people experienced fever, muscle pain, joint pain, fatigue and headaches. Most people will not experience side effects that prevent daily activity.

SCCA COVID-19 vaccine tracker

This data updated July 25, 2021

Total vaccines
administered

80,467

People who have received
their first dose

41,044

People who have received
their second dose

39,423

What to expect

How many shots of the vaccine will I need?

The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine that SCCA offers requires two shots approximately 21 days apart. The Moderna vaccine also requires two shots, with a recommended 28 days between doses. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a one-shot vaccine.

How long will the vaccine protect me? Will I have to get a COVID-19 shot every year?

We don’t know yet. Both natural immunity and vaccine-induced immunity are important aspects of COVID-19 that experts are trying to learn more about.

If I already had COVID-19 and recovered, should I still get vaccinated?

Yes, you should still get vaccinated if you had COVID. Experts don’t know how long you are protected from getting sick again after recovering from COVID-19. Even if you have already recovered from COVID-19, it is possible, although rare, to get COVID-19 again. Learn more about why getting vaccinated is a safer way to build protection than getting infected. 

If you were treated for COVID-19 with monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma, you should wait 90 days before getting a COVID-19 vaccine. Talk to your care team if you are not sure what treatments you received or have any other questions about getting the vaccine.

For more information, read the CDC’s webpage on the benefits of getting vaccinated.

If I get a COVID-19 vaccine, do I still have to wear a mask and practice physical distancing?

Yes. To prevent unvaccinated people from getting sick, it's important to continue washing your hands, wearing a mask, staying 6 feet apart from those outside your household, and limiting gatherings until enough people have received the vaccine.

We know vaccination will prevent you from getting sick, but we don’t yet know if the vaccine will prevent you from spreading the virus to others.
 

After you've been vaccinated

What can I do after I am fully vaccinated? Do I still need to protect myself and others?

If it has been two weeks since you received your second dose of the PfizerBioNTech or Moderna vaccine or your
single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you are considered “fully vaccinated”. We have separated the
guidelines for fully vaccinated people into two groups. Please make sure to follow the guidelines that apply to you.

Group 1

Includes fully vaccinated SCCA patients who:

  • Have not yet started treatment
  • Are in active treatment
  • Have recently completed treatment
  • Have weakened immune symptoms; for example, allogeneic and autologous transplant patients

Guidance for group 1

These patients should remain cautious. Although you may hear that others may get together after getting
vaccinated, people with cancer are more vulnerable. We don’t know how well the vaccines work in people with
cancer, particularly those who are on active treatment.
Until we know more about the effectiveness of vaccines in cancer patients, fully vaccinated people with cancer
should continue to:

  • Wear a well-fitted mask and practicing physical distancing when in public.
  • Wear masks, practice physical distancing, and follow other prevention measures when visiting with
  • unvaccinated people outside of your household.
  • Avoid in-person gatherings with those outside your household.
  • Avoid airline travel
  • Get tested if experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.

Group 2

Includes fully vaccinated SCCA patients who:

  • Are long term cancer survivors not on immunosuppression
  • Have a disease that required surgery only (no chemotherapy or radiation).
  • Have cancer treated with hormone therapy only

or

Fully vaccinated healthy caregivers and household contacts

Guidance for group 2

According to the CDC, these people:

  • Can visit indoors, in small groups, with other fully vaccinated people without wearing masks or physical distancing at either your house or theirs
  • Can visit indoors with unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk for COVID-19 without wearing masks or physical distancing at either your house or theirs. Low risk means that those people are being very cautious, masking and physical distancing.
  • No longer need to quarantine or get a COVID-19 test after a known exposure if they do not have symptoms (are asymptomatic).
  • Should continue to protect themselves in public, including wearing a well-fitted mask, physical distancing, and avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces.
I am immunocompromised. Will an antibody (serological) test tell me if the vaccine was effective?

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) do not recommend routine antibody testing after getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Currently, it is not known what antibody level is needed for protection in the general population and people who are immunocompromised. COVID-19 vaccine data in cancer patients continues to be limited, so it is important to continue wearing masks, keeping socially distant, and avoiding crowds and gatherings even after getting vaccinated.

I was exposed to someone with COVID-19 within two weeks of getting the vaccine. How do I tell the difference between having a standard reaction to the vaccine and having COVID-19?

Typically, most vaccine-related side effects go away within 1-3 days. If you have symptoms such as cough, loss of taste/smell, or shortness of breath after getting your vaccine, we strongly recommend getting tested for COVID-19.  

Fever is more common after the second dose, but it can also be a symptom of COVID-19. If you develop a fever, sore throat, cough, fatigue or any other COVID-19 symptoms after being exposed to someone with proven COVID-19, you should get tested whether you have gotten the vaccine or not.

You may wonder whether your COVID-19 test results will be accurate right after you’ve been vaccinated. COVID-19 nasal swab tests check for the virus—not your body’s immune response to the vaccine—so test results from a nasal swab won’t be affected by the vaccine.

We do not know how well the vaccine works in people who are immunocompromised and people who have cancer. Because of this, it is important to continue wearing masks, keeping physically distanced, and avoiding crowds and gatherings even after getting vaccinated.

General

How do vaccines work?

The COVID-19 vaccine teaches your immune system to recognize the coronavirus. When you get the vaccine, your immune system makes antibodies (“protein fighters”) against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. These antibodies stay in your blood and protect you in case you are infected with the virus. 

These vaccines have been shown to prevent the major complications of infection, COVID-19 disease and hospitalization. When enough people in the community can fight off the coronavirus— something called herd or population immunity—it has nowhere to go. This means the virus has a harder time spreading, and we get closer to ending the pandemic. 

Watch this video from the Washington State Department of Health for more information on how vaccines work:
How Vaccines Work in Your Body Video

Why should I get vaccinated for COVID-19?

Studies show that people who were vaccinated against COVID-19 were less likely to get seriously ill from COVID-19 even if they were  infected with the virus. Although the level of protection for people with cancer isn’t clear yet, experts recommend that many people with cancer get vaccinated. Vaccination may also help reduce the spread of a virus and protect the people around you, including those who are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

Will the vaccine stop the pandemic?

Based on what we know about viruses, vaccines are likely to be a critical part of curbing the pandemic. Stopping a pandemic requires us to use all the tools we have available, including masks, physical distancing and vaccines to help limit the spread. The more people continue to follow good prevention practices, the faster we can get this pandemic under control — but we aren’t there yet.

covid vaccine infographic

The information presented in this page is subject to change pending guidance from the CDC, WHO and/or Public Health – Seattle & King County. Some of the information on this page has been adapted, with permission, from UW Medicine’s COVID-19 Vaccines webpage.

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