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COVID-19 and Cancer - Information for Patients

Page updated: March 30, 2021


The COVID-19 pandemic changes often. We will update this page when we get new information. The best source of up-to-date information on COVID-19 in British Columbia is the BC Centre for Disease Control website

COVID-19 vaccine information

B.C. announced its plan to vaccinate those who are at higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19 if they were to get the virus on March 23, 2021. This group, which has been called those who are “clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV),” has been identified through a thorough review of the scientific evidence from around the world combined with expert clinical opinion from here in B.C. 
 
Those who are being actively treated for cancer or who are on particular immunosuppressant medications are in the CEV group. 

What should patients who think they are in this CEV group do? 
  1. Go to BC’s immunization website at www.gov.bc.ca/cevcovid to learn more about the process
  2. Go to the BCCDC website and see the patient resources at www.bccdc.ca/vaccineconsiderations#cev  for more information
  3. Watch your mail for a letter, signed by Dr. Bonnie Henry, which should arrive to you by April 15, 2021. 
  4. Once your letter arrives, it is your invitation to book your vaccine no matter your age group. 
  5. If, based on your age, you are already eligible to book, please do so. 
  6. If, after April 15, your CEV invitation letter has not arrived to your home, please reach out to your family primary care provider or your specialist team.  

Yes. All of the COVID-19 vaccines available in Canada are safe for their recommended use. 


Doctors and researchers have looked at the evidence. They agree that unless you have a very serious allergy to any of the vaccine ingredients, you should strongly consider getting a COVID-19 vaccine.  People with cancer have a higher chance of severe symptoms if they get COVID-19. 

Please review special vaccine considerations and FAQs for people with cancer. 

If you have: 
Please visit the BC Center for Disease Control COVID-19 Vaccine webpage for more information.

People currently receiving cancer treatment and some people who have just finished treatment are now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. They are considered “clinically extremely vulnerable” as they are at higher risk of getting very sick if they got COVID-19. 


This group includes: 

  • People receiving systemic therapy for cancer now or within the past 12 months. This includes chemotherapy, molecular therapy, immunotherapy, monoclonal antibodies, hormonal therapy for cancer
  • People receiving radiation therapy for cancer now or in the past 6 months
  • People receiving or who have previously received targeted cancer treatments that can affect the immune system such as CAR-T cell treatments in the past 6 months
  • Anyone with blood or bone marrow cancer (such as leukemia, lymphoma, myeloma, myelodysplastic disorders)
  • People who have had a bone marrow or stem cell transplant in the past 6 months, or are still taking immunosuppressant medicine related to your transplant
Patients who are part of this group will receive an invitation letter from the B.C. Provincial Government with information on how to book an appointment, beginning March 29, 2021. People who receive an invitation letter must bring it with them to their vaccination appointment.

If you believe you are in the CEV group but you have not received a letter by April 15, 2021, please reach out to the care team who is managing your condition.  

People with cancer weren’t included in the clinical trials of the COVID-19 vaccines. While the COVID-19 vaccines are very safe, researchers do not know exactly how much protection they will give people with cancer compared to those who do not have cancer. 


However, the way the vaccines work means that there is a strong chance that your immune system will learn to protect you, to some degree, from COVID-19. 

Some medications and treatments for cancer affect how well your immune system responds to the COVID-19 vaccine. Timing your vaccine around your treatment may help the vaccine work best
Some medications and treatments for cancer affect how well your immune system responds to the COVID-19 vaccine. Timing your vaccine around your treatment may help the vaccine work best.

Not all people with cancer need to time the vaccine around their treatment or medications.

If you are on treatment or your treatment needs to start before you can get the vaccine, do not delay your cancer treatment.

You may need to time your vaccine if any of the following apply to you:

Systemic Therapy   

  • If you are on cyclical therapy, for example chemotherapy given every 3 - 4 weeks, try and book your vaccine one week before your next treatment.

Radiation therapy  

  • If you are receiving radiation therapy to large areas of your body, you may need a blood test before getting your vaccine. 
  • If you are having radiation close to one of your arms, you should get the vaccine in your other arm. If you have questions, please speak to your radiation oncologist.
  • If you are going to start radiation therapy in the next 2-4 weeks, and you are currently eligible to get a vaccine (for example, your age group is eligible), try to get the vaccine as soon as possible (within a few weeks).  When you have your cancer centre appointment, please let the staff know the date of your vaccine appointment.

Stem cell, bone marrow transplant or CAR-T therapy  

  • If you are planned for a stem cell or bone marrow transplant or CAR-T cell therapy, try to book your vaccine at least 2 weeks before you start the chemotherapy that is given before the transplant or CAR-T cells. 

Corticosteroids or oral treatments  

  • If you are taking systemic corticosteroids, such as dexamethasone, try to book your vaccine 28 days after your last dose of corticosteroids.
  • If there are days in the week or month when you are not on treatment (intravenous or oral treatment, including steroids), try to book your vaccine appointment on your days “off” treatment.

If you are still not sure when to get your vaccine, please contact the care team who is managing your condition.


If you don’t see your medication listed, or if you take medications for another condition and you aren’t sure if you need to consider timing, you can also look at the COVID-19 vaccine planning considerations on the BCCDC website for that condition (if available). 

When companies were testing the vaccines, cancer patients were not included in the studies. 


There is a Canadian clinical trial testing one of the vaccines in people who are having cancer treatment. This trial is only open to patients in Ontario and Quebec. BC Cancer is not doing any research with cancer patients and the COVID-19 vaccines. 

Visit the BC Centre for Disease Control website page on Vaccines for COVID-19 for more information.
We understand you are anxious to get the vaccine.
If you do not meet the definition for the CEV group, you cannot get the vaccine right now. Please wait until your age group is offered the vaccine.

If you are in the CEV group but have not received your letter after April 15, please contact the provincial call centre to confirm you are eligible for the vaccine. If you are told you are not eligible but believe you are, please contact the care team who is currently managing your condition with you. They may be able to help you.

All vaccines approved in Canada and available in B.C. are safe and effective for their recommended use and will help protect you against COVID-19. While there are many different brands of COVID-19 vaccines at this point, just like other vaccines, you cannot choose the specific brand you get. If you choose to delay, there is no guarantee that you will get a specific brand of vaccine later.

People who are caregivers are not being offered the vaccine at this time unless they themselves meet the criteria for vaccination.

Your caregiver may be eligible for the vaccine depending on their age or health condition.  

Coming to your appointment: what you need to know

‎If you are feeling well, please go to your appointment. 


If you have cold or flu-like symptoms, such as cough, fever or shortness of breath, call your cancer centre. Your appointment may need to be rescheduled.


If you are self-isolating after travelling, please do not come to the cancer centre. Call the centre and speak to staff about any appointments you have. 

We may offer you a virtual appointment. Please follow instructions from your health care team.  

If you are a new patient and visiting a BC Cancer centre for the first time, you can bring one adult with you.

 

If you are having treatment or a follow-up appointment at a BC Cancer centre, you cannot bring someone with you. Please come by yourself.

 

If you need a support person at all of your appointments and treatments, please talk to your BC Cancer health care team.  

 

Thank you for helping us keep our patients and staff safe.

‎If you need transportation to get to your appointments, call your BC Cancer regional centre for help:

  • Abbotsford: 604-851-4710
  • Kelowna: 250-712-3900
  • Prince George: 250-645-7300
  • Surrey: 604-930-2098
  • Vancouver: 604-877-6000
  • Victoria: 250-519-5500

Right now, you do not have to pay for parking at BC Cancer Centres.  

If you are having a virtual appointment (also called a virtual health visit), please read our handout: 

How to prepare for your Virtual Health Visit

All patients and visitors must wear a medical mask in all areas of BC Cancer centres. 


We will give you a medical mask when you arrive. If you are wearing a non-medical mask (like a cotton mask), you will have to take it off and wear the medical mask.

Cancer treatments and care

To speak with one of our counsellors, please see our Patient & Family Counselling page for phone numbers and information.

 

We are offering many of our programs through Zoom.  Please visit our Support Programs page for more information. 

 

If you are experiencing anxiety, worry or stress for any reason we have online tools to help you. 


BC Cancer pharmacies may be able to mail your prescriptions to you. Please call your BC Cancer pharmacy to order your refills.

 

You do not need to get extra refills during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you order more than you need ("stockpiling"), other people may not get the medication they need. 


Your BC Cancer pharmacist will tell you how much medication you need. 


If you are feeling unwell and need a refill on your medication, please do not visit the pharmacy. Call the pharmacy and they will make sure you get your medication safely.

All in-person systemic therapy (chemotherapy) teaching sessions are cancelled during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Right now, sessions are only available online:

Watch the Introduction to Systemic Therapy video here.


All new systemic therapy patients should watch this video. It is very important to watch the entire video so that you are prepared for your treatment.

‎Visit the Request Patient Records page for information. Follow the steps on that page.

This document will help you start thinking about advance care planning.

 

Visit our Advance Care Planning page for more information.

 

Please speak to your family doctor, nurse practitioner or BC Cancer health care team about advance care planning.

If you have concerns at any time during your care, please speak with your oncologist. 

 

If you still have concerns after this, we support you in contacting the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) Patient Care Quality Office. You can speak to someone about your care experience.

 

Please visit the PHSA Patient Care Quality Office webpage for more information. 


Cancer screening programs

‎‎Many cancer screening services are being temporarily suspended at this time to assist in efforts to minimize COVID-19 transmission in healthy people and to allow the health system to focus resources on urgent and emergent care.

For more information please visit here

Cancer screening programs have started again.


For more information please visit our Screening Programs page.

COVID-19 and cancer: managing your risk

It is possible that cancer patients might have worse symptoms from COVID-19. This is because some treatments affect how well their immune system works.  

You should do your best to avoid getting COVID-19. This includes:


  • Wearing a mask when near other people, especially indoors.
  • Staying 2 metres (6 feet) from other people.
  • Washing your hands often with soap and water (20 to 30 seconds each time).
  • Not touching your face.
  • Covering your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing.
  • Staying home when sick.

The BC Centre for Disease Control has a full list of things you can do to stay healthy and help stop the spread of COVID-19. ‎

Read their prevention and risk page here.

If you have cold, flu or COVID-19 symptoms, you should get a COVID-19 test.

Symptoms include:

  • Fever or chills
  • New or worsening cough
  • Shortness of breath (new or worsening)
  • Sore throat and painful swallowing
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Lose of sense of smell or taste
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Loss or appetite
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

If you do not have any symptoms, you do not need a test. Your doctor or health care team may also decide if you need a test.

You can use the BC COVID-19 Self-Assessment Tool to help you decide if you need a test. You can do this assessment for yourself or for someone else if they are not able to.


If you have any symptoms, contact your cancer care team. Tell them how you are feeling. Some of your symptoms may be a side effect of treatment. Your oncologist will know more.




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