COVID-19 vaccines and brain tumours
With the help of a wonderful team of healthcare professionals, we’ve collected some information about how newly-developed COVID-19 vaccinations could impact those affected by a brain tumour. Updated: 16 July 2021
Who can get the vaccine?
Currently, anybody over the age of 18 can get vaccinated against COVID-19. You can either wait to be invited to go to a local NHS service or book an appointment at a larger vaccination centre or pharmacy.
Although there is currently no routine vaccination of under 18s, people who are 16 to 18-years-old should be offered the jab if they are:
- classified as clinically extremely vulnerable to COVID-19
- living with other conditions that put them at higher risk from COVID-19
- living or working in a care home
- working as a frontline health worker who has direct contact with people at higher risk from COVID-19
- working as a frontline social care worker who provides face-to-face care or support to people at higher risk from COVID-19
- caring for somebody who is at higher risk from COVID-19
- living in the same house as someone who is classified as clinically extremely vulnerable to COVID-19.
What does this mean for people affected by a brain tumour?
Everybody over the age of 18 should now be able to book their COVID-19 vaccination.
It is our understanding that if you’re 16 to 18-years-old and you’ve been instructed to shield, you should also be eligible for the vaccine. However, not everyone who has been diagnosed with a brain tumour will need to shield.
It is also our understanding that if you’re 16 to 18-years-old and are living with or caring for somebody who has been instructed to shield, you should be eligible for the vaccine.
If you’re unsure of whether you, somebody you live with or somebody you’re caring for is on the shielding list you can:
- check Government guidance about who should be shielding
- ask your hospital team or GP if you are on the shielding list
- request to be added to the shielding list if necessary, which your GP or hospital team will be able to do.
It’s important to note that the full Government guidance outlines that: “The examples above [the priority groups for receiving vaccination] are not exhaustive, and, within these groups, the prescriber should apply clinical judgment to take into account the risk of COVID-19 exacerbating any underlying disease that a patient may have, as well as the risk of serious illness from COVID-19 itself.”
So, if you’re 16 to 18-years-old and feel you should be eligible for the vaccine, you can always talk to your medical team or GP to find out if they can help you access the vaccine more quickly based on their clinical judgement.
Will I need a COVID-19 booster vaccine?
It’s possible that in order to protect those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19, a third dose of the vaccine could be given ahead of the winter months – much like the annual flu jab.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) have suggested that a 2021 COVID-19 booster programme could begin in September 2021, although any plans are in the interim stages and are subject to substantial change before being finalised.
The rollout of any potential COVID-19 booster programme would be similar to the vaccine rollout, prioritising those most vulnerable to COVID-19.
Stage 1 would include:
- adults aged 16 years and over who are immunosuppressed
- those living in residential care homes for older adults
- all adults aged 70 years or over
- adults aged 16 years and over who are considered clinically extremely vulnerable
- frontline health and social care workers
Stage 2 would include:
- all adults aged 50 years and over
- adults aged 16 to 49 years who are in an influenza or COVID-19 at-risk group
- adult household contacts of immunosuppressed individuals.
Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe for people living with a brain tumour?
Although the trials for the coronavirus vaccine did not look specifically at people living with a brain tumour, they have all involved:
- people with different chronic underlying conditions
- people with at-risk conditions
- very broad age ranges
- people are at extremely high risk from coronavirus compared with the general population
The trials have been carefully assessed by agencies like the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), who have judged the vaccines to be safe and effective, and recommended their roll-out in the UK.
They’ve also been looked at by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) , who are the independent experts who advise Government on which vaccine/s the United Kingdom should use and provide advice on prioritisation at a population level.
They found that there’s no indication that there should be any difficulty in giving it to people with chronic underlying conditions.
So whilst they have not specifically looked at people living with a brain tumour, the safety of the vaccine has been looked at for people with other ‘at-risk’ conditions and deemed to be safe for this population.
Advice from the experts
In November 2020, we held a COVID-19 Q+A with a number of healthcare professionals who have shared their understanding about vaccinations and brain tumours:
Are we more likely to have a bad reaction from the COVID-19 jab?
Farouk (Clinical Fellow in Neuro-oncology): I suppose the right answer is that different people will react to jabs in different ways, regardless of other medical conditions you may have. I, for example, have had a bad spell after a flu jab previously. So to answer your question, I do not believe that all patients with brain tumours will react badly to a vaccine. If you are undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy, you might be more prone to the effects of a vaccine. It is important though that if your symptoms persist and don’t improve in a few days, they may be unrelated to the vaccination and it’s worth considering other causes.
I have epilepsy from my tumour. Would the vaccine increase the number/severity of seizures I have, given I have more when I’m ill? And would having epilepsy or taking epilepsy medication reduce the effectiveness of the vaccine?
Matt (Consultant Clinical Oncologist): Any reaction to a vaccine might increase your seizures, but only for a few days. Taking the anti-seizure medication shouldn’t reduce the effectiveness of the vaccine.
Is research taking place to ascertain whether any of the new vaccines will be safe for those with glioblastomas? Or is there particular evidence already included in the data now being presented to the regulatory authorities?
Anna (Advanced Nurse Practitioner): At this time there isn’t any specific condition-related research as focus has been on developing a general vaccine for all. However, as we begin to understand the virus more, this may be included in future research.
You may have read or heard that there is some initial data suggesting that single doses of the Pfizer vaccine may be less effective for people with cancer. We asked our research team about what this could mean:
“Being an evidence led organisation we’re glad to see that the effectiveness of one COVID-19 vaccine is being studied in people with cancer. It should be noted that the results of this paper are interim (meaning that the researchers don’t have all the data they intend to collect, yet). It should also be noted that most of the results in this publication are based on people who have had only one dose of the recommended two. We also noted that the small number cancer patients in this research (95 with solid cancers) didn’t include anyone with a brain tumour. We look forward to seeing their subsequent publications and hope that other research will specifically include people with brain tumours”.
Erica Moyes, Research Communications Manager at The Brain Tumour Charity
What about if I’m having treatment?
You can still receive the COVID-19 vaccination if you are receiving treatment for your brain tumour. Public health experts and cancer specialists have agreed that people living with cancer should receive the vaccine.
Because your immune system needs to be working at some level in order to respond to the vaccine, it is possible that they may be slightly less effective for people having chemotherapy or other cancer treatments. But it is still expected that the vaccine will give some useful protection against the virus and it’s advisable that you have it when possible.
As well as chemotherapy, experts have said that the vaccine can be given to people going through radiotherapy, immunotherapy as well as hormonal therapies.
If your cancer treatment is affecting your immune system, your healthcare team will advise you on the best time to get your COVID-19 vaccine – there may be points during your treatment when the vaccine is likely to be most effective for you.
However, these people, including those on chemotherapy, have been advised to continue to follow Government shielding advice to reduce their risk of infection, even after vaccination
How can I access the vaccine?
If you’re over the age of 18, you can either wait to be invited to go to a local NHS service or book an appointment at a larger vaccination centre or pharmacy.
If you’re 16 to 18-years-old and think you should be eligible for the vaccine because you or somebody you love is living with a brain tumour, you can always talk to your medical team or GP to find out if they can help you access the vaccine more quickly based on their clinical judgement.
You should always talk to your GP or your medical team if you have any concerns or questions about the vaccines.
Unfortunately, some people have been fraudulently contacted by email or text message by scammers claiming to be offering the opportunity to sign up for the COVID-19 vaccine. This scam instructs people to click a link in the message that takes them to an online form where they are prompted to input personal and financial details.
Remember, the vaccine is only available on the NHS and is free of charge. The NHS will never ask you for bank details or to pay for the vaccine. When you are eligible for the vaccine, the NHS will contact you by letter to arrange your vaccination.
The Action Fraud website has lots of information about what to look for and how to keep yourself safe
Which vaccine should I have? And is this my choice?
The vaccines people are offered will be appropriate for them and this decision is based on clinical judgement supported by the advice of JCVI. You cannot choose which one you have.
The decision will take into account individual vaccine characteristics, which may mean they are more suitable for some groups of people, and not others – for example, some may be less well tolerated or effective in certain age groups.
Remember that any vaccines that are available will have been approved because they pass the MHRA’s tests on safety and efficacy, so people should be assured that whatever vaccine they get will be highly effective and protect them from coronavirus.
Are there any side effects?
Like all medicines, vaccines can cause side effects, but it’s important to remember that not everybody gets them and most of these are mild, short-term effects that should improve in a few days.
Vaccination side effects could include:
- a sore arm from the injection
- feeling tired
- a headache
- feeling achy
- feeling or being sick
- a high temperature, feeling hot or feeling shivery.
Whatever vaccine you are given, you will also be given information about possible side-effects, how to look out for them and what to do if you experience any.
People with allergies to penicillin, eggs, shellfish are sometimes concerned about having an anaphylaxis reaction to the injection. All 3 injections have no contraindications to people with these allergies. However if you were concerned, you can speak to your GP. Also, at the site of injection, everyone is observed for 15 mins post injection anyway by a qualified nurse just in case there are any side effects.
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