The rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in the United States has many feeling hopeful about the possibility of gaining some protection against the virus. But as with any new medical advancement, it is not uncommon for people to have questions about its safety and efficacy. And for those who are living with ovarian cancer, there are additional concerns to consider as well. Read on for vaccine information that’s relevant to those in the ovarian cancer community, whether newly diagnosed, undergoing treatment, in remission—or a caregiver.
A vaccine is a substance given to individuals, typically by injection, in order to increase their production of antibodies and help protect them against a certain disease.
There are currently two COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in the United States: the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine for individuals age 16 and older and the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine for individuals age 18 and older. Both vaccines contain messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA). Much like its name suggests, mRNA acts as a messenger within the body, carrying a genetic code that tells cells which proteins to build. The mRNA contained in these specific COVID-19 vaccines tells cells to make the protein that helps COVID-19 infect the body. Doing so does not cause the body to become sick but instead teaches the immune system to act against the virus in the case of future exposure, as explained by the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC).
It is important to note that these COVID-19 vaccines do NOT contain a live virus, which could be of concern to those with weakened immune systems. The lack of a live virus means that the vaccine CANNOT cause COVID-19 in anyone who receives it, according to the CDC.
The length of time that protection against COVID-19 will last after receiving the vaccine is currently unknown, according to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), which issued the emergency use authorizations (EUAs) for both vaccines. The FDA, CDC and other federal agencies are continuing to evaluate the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines in real-world conditions. Learn more about the testing methods being used here.
Common side effects reported for both vaccines include pain at the injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain and fever. Additional side effects reported for the Moderna vaccine include swollen lymph nodes in the same arm as the injection, nausea and vomiting, as listed by the FDA. Additionally, the FDA notes that side effects for both vaccines have been reported to occur more frequently after the second dose than the first dose, but that all side effects typically last just a few days. The vaccines are still being studied for long-term side effects, which are currently unknown.
Every ovarian cancer case—and patient—is different, so there is not a uniform approach that can be applied to all situations. Below are resources from expert sources but, as always, we advise speaking with your medical team before making any decisions:
- COVID-19 Vaccines in People with Cancer
- Vaccinations and Flu Shots for People with Cancer
- COVID-19 Vaccines: Here is What Cancer Patients and Survivors Need to Know Now
Since the vaccines themselves CANNOT infect anyone with the virus, there is no danger that getting vaccinated will cause caregivers to spread COVID-19 to the person under their care (or anyone else, for that matter). However, it is still unknown if the vaccine will prevent passing COVID-19 to someone if an individual is exposed to the virus after getting vaccinated, even if asymptomatic.
After getting vaccinated, individuals must continue to wear masks, practice social distancing and wash hands frequently (and thoroughly), according to the CDC. The agency notes that there is not enough information currently available about the overall protection of the COVID-19 vaccines in real-world conditions, which is why everyone must continue to follow these preventative measures to slow the spread of the virus.
OCRA has compiled the following resources with general information about COVID-19, including coping strategies and protective measures:
- Information on COVID-19 for Ovarian Cancer Patients
- Reflections from the Frontline | OCRA Scientists on Covid-19
- Isolating Without Feeling Alone: Coping Mechanisms & COVID-19
- Staying Connected Throughout COVID-19
Please, stay safe. And as always, we are here for you.