Flu Shots for Cancer Patients: What to Know

Medically Reviewed By: Candace Hsieh, RN, CIC, infection preventionist at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center

Influenza viruses, generally referred to as the flu, are present year-round in the United States, but are most common during the fall and winter months. The best way to protect yourself, and those around you, is to receive a yearly flu vaccine.

Should cancer patients get the flu shot?

Yes. Most cancer patients should get a flu shot every flu season. However, before doing so, be sure to speak with your provider regarding vaccination options. Every patient and treatment plan is different, and there are multiple factors and considerations your care team will be able to cover with you.

Anyone caring for, or living with, an individual with cancer should also receive the flu vaccine.

Who shouldn’t receive the flu shot?

You should generally not get the flu vaccine if you are undergoing, or have recently undergone, a stem cell transplant.

Do not get a flu shot before talking with your doctor if you have a severe allergy to eggs or egg products; a previous serious reaction to the flu vaccine; a history of Guillain-Barré syndrome; or a platelet count below 10,000.

People with cancer should also not get the nasal spray flu vaccine (brand name FluMist). This form contains a weakened version of the live virus and can cause life-threatening infections for individuals with a weakened immune system.

If you are not sure whether a flu shot is OK for you, talk with your doctor or another member of your care team, as they will be able to guide you on which vaccines are safe for you.

COVID-19 vaccines and the flu shot

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it is OK to get a COVID-19 vaccine (including a booster shot or third dose) at the same time as a flu shot. This is a change from previous guidance, which advised waiting at least 14 days between a flu shot and COVID-19 vaccination. Both vaccines provide vital protection against illness and are proven to help reduce deaths and hospitalization rates.

For more information about the flu and COVID-19, check the CDC flu season website.

Where can I get a flu shot? 

Flu shots can be administered by your primary care doctor, at your local pharmacy, or by your You can get the influenza vaccine at your primary care doctor’s office, a local flu shot clinic, or retail pharmacies such as CVS Pharmacy or Walgreens.

Individuals receiving treatment at Dana-Farber are encouraged to receive their flu shot at the Institute. If you are currently a patient at Dana-Farber, you can make plans to be vaccinated.

Regardless of status, all patients should ask their health care team about their options.

“Every patient, and their treatment plan, is different, but any immunity is better than no immunity,” says Candace Hsieh, RN CIC, infection preventionist at Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center.

How else can I protect myself from the flu?

Proper handwashing is a simple, but essential, way to prevent contracting and spreading the flu virus. If soap and water are unavailable, you can also use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer (that contains at least 60% alcohol) to kill germs. You should also:

  • Stay home if you are ill
  • Always sneeze or cough into your elbow or a tissue
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, as that is an easy way for germs to spread

If you think you or your child may have the flu, be sure to call a licensed healthcare provider or your care team at Dana-Farber.