Should Cancer Patients Get the Flu Shot During COVID-19?

September 28, 2020

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.

Dana-Farber President and CEO Laurie H. Glimcher, MD, receiving her flu shot.

Who shouldn’t receive the flu shot?

It is not recommended for an individual to receive the flu vaccine if they are undergoing, or have undergone, a recent stem cell transplant.

Do not get a flu shot 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, until you have spoken to your provider.

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

Before scheduling your flu vaccine, be sure to speak with your care team, as they will be able to guide you on which vaccines are safe for you.

The flu and COVID-19

The flu and COVID-19 are two separate illnesses caused by a pair of different viruses. However, both are considered contagious respiratory illnesses, and experts believe there will be a rise in each this fall and winter.

Currently there is no approved COVID-19 vaccine and getting a flu shot will not protect you from the virus. However, getting the flu vaccine this year has added significance, according to the CDC: In addition to protecting yourself and those around you, getting the vaccine can also help preserve valuable resources by lowering the amount of flu-related hospital visits.

For more information regarding the flu during COVID-19, be sure to consult the CDC website.

Where should I get a flu shot? 

Flu shots can be administered by your primary care doctor, at your local pharmacy, or by your cancer care team. Unlike many providers, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute uses an inactivated virus, which is safer for patients.

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 easily 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 and Women’s 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

Social distancing and wearing a mask when within six feet of others should also help prevent the spread of influenza as well.

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.