COVID-19 Booster Shots for Most Cancer Patients: What to Know

If you have been vaccinated against COVID-19, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting an additional dose or booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. An additional dose is particularly important for people who are immunocompromised, such as those being treated for cancer.

  • An additional dose is considered a required part of the vaccination series that helps certain immunocompromised people achieve full vaccination.
  • A booster dose is another dose given to fully vaccinated persons to extend their immune response. It is not the same as an additional dose.

Who needs another dose?

The CDC recommends a vaccine booster dose for anyone who has achieved full vaccination with any of the three FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines: Johnson & JohnsonModerna, or Pfizer-BioNTech.

The CDC recommends that immunocompromised people (including most cancer patients) get an additional dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at least 28 days after their second dose. For an additional dose, you should try to get the same vaccine that you received for your first two doses.

Immunocompromised people who received the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine should get a booster dose at least 2 months after their first shot. You may choose the type of COVID-19 vaccine you prefer for your booster shot.

Immunocompromised people can include people who have:

  • Been receiving active cancer treatment for tumors or cancers of the blood
  • Received an organ transplant and are taking medicine to suppress the immune system
  • Received a stem cell transplant within the last 2 years or are taking medicine to suppress the immune system
  • Moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency (such as DiGeorge syndrome, Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome)
  • Advanced or untreated HIV infection
  • Active treatment with high-dose corticosteroids or other drugs that may suppress your immune response

Remember to talk with your doctor if you have any questions about what is right for you.

Which kind of booster should I get?

If you are eligible for a vaccine booster, the CDC advises that you can get whichever type you prefer — Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, or Pfizer-BioNTech. Some people may want the vaccine type that they originally received, while others may prefer to get a different booster. For example, you might choose to get a certain booster because it is easily available to you, or because of potential side effects or reactions. CDC recommendations allow for this mix-and-match dosing for booster shots.

A COVID-19 vaccine.
A COVID-19 vaccine.

The CDC does not currently recommend a particular combination of vaccines and boosters — nor does it encourage sticking with the original vaccine or switching to a different one. According to the CDC, there is not yet enough data to make these recommendations.

Where should I get another dose?

If you are eligible for an additional dose or booster shot, you should get one soon at a location that is convenient to you. Community locations, such as CVS and Walgreens pharmacies, offer additional vaccine doses to eligible patients right now. You do not need a doctor’s note to get a booster or additional dose at these locations. Find one near you at vaxfinder.mass.gov or www.vaccines.gov.

Why should you get another dose?  

Research shows that people being treated for cancers such as leukemialymphoma, or multiple myeloma are more likely to get very sick if they get COVID-19. They may also have a longer illness. Data suggests that an additional dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, for example, may provide more protection against these risks.

A recent study found that individuals actively being treated for cancer had lower immune responses to the COVID-19 vaccines compared with non-immunocompromised individuals, though it was still sufficient to protect against severe disease. Patients who received mRNA vaccines like those offered by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna had stronger responses than those who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. An additional dose also induced a higher immune response, and it was safe and well tolerated.

What should I know about the Omicron variant?

The CDC is closely following developments related to a new COVID-19 variant called Omicron. Early reports suggest that the variant has enhanced transmissibility, but studies are underway that will provide a better picture. The CDC recommends continuing to take precautions against COVID-19, including wearing a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high community transmission.

The CDC continues to recommend that everyone age 5 and older protect themselves from COVID-19 by getting fully vaccinated.

For the very latest on COVID-19 vaccines from Dana-Farber, visit this webpage.