Is there a COVID-19 vaccine?
There are several COVID-19 vaccines in development.
Three vaccines, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and the Moderna vaccine, have been approved for use in the UK by the Medicine and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
Vaccinations with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and the Moderna vaccine are currently underway.
Will myeloma patients be prioritised for the COVID-19 vaccine?
The Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has published guidance detailing how the COVID-19 vaccines should be prioritised.
Clinically extremely vulnerable people, including myeloma patients, are in the 4th priority group and should be offered a vaccine after people who live or work in care homes, frontline health and social care workers and those aged over 75.
Will carers and/or family members living with myeloma patients be prioritised for the COVID-19 vaccination?
Carers who are in receipt of a carer’s allowance or who are the main carer of an elderly or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if the carer falls ill have been prioritised and are included in the 6th priority group.
On 29 March the JCVI recommended that anyone over 16 who lives with an adult with a weakened immune system should be prioritised for the COVID-19 vaccine. Therefore, adults living with myeloma patients will soon be placed in the 6th priority group for the COVID-19 vaccine and should hear more about their vaccination soon. This recommendation was made because there is more data about the impact of vaccination on COVID-19 transmission.
When will myeloma patients receive the vaccine?
Vaccines are being given in line with the priority list. Myeloma patients are included in the 4th priority group along with those over 70 years old, therefore, most patients will have received their first dose of the vaccine already.
You can find out more about the vaccination programmes across the UK and how to book and/or manage your vaccination appointments via the NHS website.
Should myeloma patients be vaccinated?
The current advice from the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is that anyone who is offered a COVID-19 vaccine should have it, this includes myeloma patients.
When you receive your vaccination letter, we advise that you inform your clinical team who will be able to advise you on whether the timing of your vaccination fits with any ongoing treatment.
For example, it is recommended that people due to start immunosuppressing treatment get both doses of the vaccine at least two weeks before starting treatment. The second dose of the vaccine can be given at the recommended minimum of three or four weeks from the first dose to enable this.
Will the vaccine be effective in myeloma patients?
The COVID-19 vaccines should give myeloma patients some protection against COVID-19.
However, from previous vaccine research, we know that medications, immune function, and pre-existing health conditions can affect how some vaccines work. Therefore, the COVID-19 vaccine may not be fully effective in immunocompromised patients or people having immunosuppressing treatment.
Although the vaccine might not be fully effective in some myeloma patients, it is still important to be vaccinated as it will provide some protection against severe illness due to COVID-19.
Following vaccination, patients should continue to follow infection prevention measures, such as frequent hand washing and social distancing, unless told otherwise by their doctor.
You can read more about the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine in our blog.
Can the COVID-19 vaccine cause COVID-19 infection?
No. The vaccines don’t contain any ‘live’ COVID-19 virus, therefore you can’t develop COVID-19 from the COVID-19 vaccines.
Can the COVID-19 vaccine cause side effects?
Like all other vaccines and medicines, the COVID-19 vaccine can cause side effects, although not everybody gets them.
Most side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine are mild and shouldn’t last longer than a week.
Common side effects include:
- Pain, tenderness, or redness where the needle went in
- Flu-like symptoms (runny nose, cough, sore throat)
- Feeling tired
- A headache
- Feeling achy
- Fever and/or chills
- Feeling or being sick
If you are concerned about any side effects, talk to your GP, haematologist or clinical nurse specialist.
Note: Patients on immunosuppressive treatment or recovering from high-dose therapy and stem cell transplantation (HDT-SCT) have a higher risk of infection (e.g. pneumonia). Some of the side effects caused by the COVID-19 vaccine are similar to signs of an underlying infection. Therefore, if you develop a high temperature and think it might be caused by an underlying infection you should contact your healthcare team.
Is one vaccine better than the other for myeloma patients?
The Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) does not advise a preference for either vaccine in any specific group of people. This is because there is insufficient data to directly compare the vaccines. The clinical trials have different designs (e.g. differences in who took part, where and when they were carried out and how effectiveness was measured) and there are no clinical trials directly comparing the Pfizer-BioNTech, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines. All three vaccines give very high protection against severe illness due to COVID-19. Practical and operational reasons will determine which vaccine you are offered, but they are both considered appropriate for myeloma patients.
Should I wait until after high-dose therapy and stem cell transplantation (HDT-SCT) to get my vaccine?
We advise speaking to your clinical team when you receive your vaccination letter. They will be able to tell you if the timing of the vaccine fits with your ongoing treatment. If you receive your vaccination before your HDT-SCT you will need to be revaccinated.
I have had HDT-SCT/ am on intensive treatment, is the vaccine suitable for me?
The vaccine might not work as well for patients having intensive treatment, like HDT-SCT, which weakens their immune system. As a result, the current advice is that COVID-19 vaccination should be considered 3-6 months following HDT-SCT. Patients who are concerned about their suitability should talk to their clinical team when they get their vaccination letter. They will be able to tell you if the timing of the vaccine fits with your ongoing treatment.
I’m having treatment for myeloma, when should I have my vaccination?
We advise speaking to your clinical team when you receive your vaccination letter. They will be able to tell you if the timing of the vaccine fits with your ongoing treatment.
For vaccines in general, it is usually advised that any vaccinations are administered during a rest period of the treatment cycle or when treatment is completed. Patients who are very immunocompromised may be advised to wait to be vaccinated until their immune system is stronger, because the vaccine may not be as effective for them. However, this is likely to only be patients undergoing very intensive treatment, such as within the first few weeks of high-dose therapy and stem cell transplantation.
It is recommended that people due to start immunosuppressing treatment get both doses of the vaccine at least two weeks before starting treatment. The second dose of the vaccine can be given at the recommended minimum of three or four weeks from the first dose to enable this.
Will the vaccine interfere with my myeloma treatment?
There is no evidence that the vaccine will interfere with treatments for myeloma, however, some treatments will lower the immune system which may affect how well the vaccine will work.
Will the timing of the second dose affect the efficacy of the vaccine?
The dosing schedule was determined by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). The JCVI analysed all the available data and concluded that 12 weeks is a reasonable dosing interval to achieve good longer-term protection. In their evidence statement supporting the widening of the dosing schedule to within 12 weeks of the first dose, the JCVI stated that they expected the vaccines to be as or more effective when delivered at an interval of 12 weeks from the first dose. Please be assured that this is something that Myeloma UK is monitoring.
You can read more about the dosing schedule in our COVID-19 blog.
Does the vaccine prevent transmission?
At the moment, data about the impact of vaccines on transmission rates are limited. The clinical trials assessing the vaccines were designed to measure how the vaccines could protect individuals against COVID-19 so they can’t tell us if the vaccine affected transmission.
The evidence to confirm if the vaccines affect transmission rates within the community is still being collected and assessed.
It is hoped that by vaccinating everyone the level of infection in the community will be significantly lower and therefore the rate of transmission will be greatly reduced. So, although there is still a risk of passing on COVID-19 following vaccination, the data currently indicates you have a lower risk of infection, therefore, in theory, the risk of transmission will be lower.
How do the vaccines work?
Vaccines work by causing your body to have an immune response against a specific infection without causing the infection itself. Your body remembers this response when it comes into contact with the infection, making it easier for your body to fight it off.
The vaccines currently available in the UK for COVID-19 work in different ways.
The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines – mRNA vaccines:
- A copy of a gene from the coronavirus is packaged into very small fat droplets
- These droplets are absorbed by the body’s cells and trigger an immune response
- The gene cannot replicate itself so it is safe for people with weakened immune systems
- These are suitable for myeloma patients
The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine – a viral vector vaccine:
- A copy of a gene from the coronavirus is put into a harmless weakened adenovirus (a type of virus) that usually causes the common cold in chimpanzees
- The adenovirus is absorbed by the body’s cells and triggers an immune response
- The virus cannot replicate within the body so it is safe for people with a weakened immune system
- These are suitable for myeloma patients
If you have more questions about COVID-19 and vaccines, get in touch with us via the Infoline on 0800 980 3332 or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or talk to your clinical team who will be able to provide advice specific to your circumstances.