Can kidney cancer patients be vaccinated for COVID-19?

Here is a pdf version of our help sheet: COVID-19 vaccination helpsheet 14 Apr 2021

See also the following guide to vaccinations for COVID-19 from the British Society for Immunology.

The Government has also released an easy-read guide for the COVID-19 vaccination and an easy-read leaflet for the COVID-19 vaccination.

There have been reports of a very rare condition involving blood clots and unusual bleeding after vaccination. Although this condition remains extremely rare there appears to be a higher risk in people shortly after the first dose of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine. Around 4 people develop this condition for every million doses of vaccine given. This is seen slightly more often in younger people and tends to occur between 4 days and 2 weeks following vaccination. This condition can also occur naturally, and clotting problems are a common complication of COVID-19 infection. The Government has released a leaflet to explain the risk of blood clotting.

Is the vaccine safe for kidney cancer patients?

This is the response we have had from a leading UK cancer specialist hospital; it is a generalised reply and DOES NOT take into account individual clinical situations:

“We are advising all our patients to be vaccinated as soon as they are invited unless there is a clear contraindication e.g. history of serious allergic reaction…….with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.”

This advice covers kidney cancer patients taking targeted therapy (e.g., sunitinib, pazopanib, axitinib or cabozantinib) and immunotherapy (nivolumab, ipilimumab, pembrolizumab or avelumab), and those with reduced kidney function. If your individual situation is worrying you, then please make sure you discuss this with your doctor who is the only person who has access to all your medical notes. If you are aware that you have had a severe allergic reaction to any medicines or food, then please make sure your doctor is aware of this. Further information about the coronavirus vaccination can be found on the NHS website.

Is the vaccine safe for patients with one kidney/chronic kidney disease?

Even though kidney transplant recipients were not included in the early COVID-19 clinical trials, many doctors believe the COVID-19 vaccine will be safe for these patients because the virus used to make the vaccine is not living (similar to the flu vaccine). 

So, while the vaccine may be safe, its effectiveness in people with one kidney is not yet known.

To date, there are no data on whether any patients with chronic kidney disease at any stage or those on dialysis participated in the COVID-19 clinical trials.

Most doctors agree that the benefits of the vaccine for people with chronic kidney disease at any stage, those on dialysis, and kidney transplant recipients are much greater than the risk of serious disease or complications from COVID-19. Talk to your doctor or other healthcare professional about getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

What to expect after your COVID-19 vaccination

The Government have produced a document describing what to expect after your COVID-19 vaccination. They have also produced a document detailing the reported side effects from the vaccines.

Like all medicines, vaccines can cause side effects. Most of these are mild and don’t last a long time, and not everyone gets them. Even if you do have symptoms after the first dose, you still need to have the second dose. Although you may get some protection from the first dose, having the second dose will give you the best protection against the virus.

Very common side effects include:

  • Having a painful, heavy feeling and tenderness in the arm where you had your injection. This tends to be worst around 1 to 2 days after the vaccine
  • Feeling tired
  • Headache
  • General aches, or mild flu-like symptoms.

Generally, these happen shortly after the vaccination and are not associated with more serious or lasting illness.

These types of reactions reflect the normal immune response triggered by the body to the vaccines. They are typically seen with most types of vaccine and tend to resolve within a day or two. The nature of reported suspected side effects is broadly similar across age groups, although, as was seen in clinical trials and as is usually seen with other vaccines, they may be reported more frequently in younger adults.

You cannot catch COVID-19 from the vaccine but it is possible to have caught COVID-19 and not realise you have the symptoms until after your vaccination appointment.

The most important symptoms of COVID-19 are recent onset of any of the following:

  • A new continuous cough
  • A high temperature
  • Loss of, or change in, your normal sense of taste or smell (anosmia)

Although a mild fever can occur within a day or two of vaccination, if you have any other COVID-19 symptoms or your fever lasts longer, stay at home and arrange to have a COVID-19 test. Further information on symptoms is available on NHS.UK.

You should be able to resume normal activities as long as you feel well. If your arm is particularly sore, you may find lifting heavy objects difficult. If you feel unwell or very tired you should rest and avoid operating machinery or driving.

It may take a week or two for your body to build up some protection from the first dose of vaccine. Like all medicines, no vaccine is completely effective, so you should continue to take the recommended precautions to avoid infection. Some people may still get COVID-19 despite having a vaccination, but this should be less severe.

The vaccine cannot give you COVID-19 infection, and a full course will reduce your chance of becoming seriously ill. We do not yet know whether it will stop you from catching and passing on the virus, but we do expect it to reduce this risk. So, it is still important to follow the guidance in your local area to protect those around you.

Are there other more serious side effects?

Recently there have been reports of an extremely rare condition involving blood clots and unusual bleeding after the AstraZeneca and Janssen vaccines. This is being carefully reviewed but the risk factors for this condition are not yet clear. Because of the high risk of complications and death from COVID-19, the MHRA, the World Health Organization and the European Medicines Agency have concluded that the balance is very much in favour of vaccination.

If you experience any of the following from around 4 days to 4 weeks after vaccination you should seek medical advice urgently:

  • A new, severe headache which is not helped by usual painkillers or is getting worse
  • An unusual headache which seems worse when lying down or bending over or may be accompanied by
    • blurred vision, nausea and vomiting
    • difficulty with your speech,
    • weakness, drowsiness or seizures
  • New, unexplained pinprick bruising or bleeding
  • Shortness of breath, chest pain, leg swelling or persistent abdominal pain

Worldwide, there have also been recent, rare cases of inflammation of the heart called myocarditis or pericarditis reported after COVID-19 vaccines, although it is not yet clear that these are caused by the vaccines.

These cases have been seen mostly in younger men within several days after vaccination. Most of these people recovered and felt better following rest and simple treatments.

You should seek medical advice urgently if you experience:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feelings of having a fast-beating, fluttering, or pounding heart

Vaccination schedule

UPDATED: 4 April 2022

Three vaccines have been approved for use in the UK: the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine and the Moderna vaccine. These vaccines protect people against all known variants of SARS-CoV-2. There is no preference for one vaccine over the other for any specific population. Because of the high rate of COVID-19 infection in the UK, the Government need rapid and high levels of vaccine uptake. If you are receiving the vaccination for the first time, you will be given two primary doses of the same vaccine 12 weeks apart.

An independent group of experts (the JCVI) has recommended that the NHS offers these vaccines to those at highest risk of catching the disease and of suffering serious complications or dying from COVID-19 first. This includes older adults in care homes and frontline health and social care workers. The Government has released a guide for the vaccination of adults. Vaccinations are now being offered to children aged 5 years and over.

You will be contacted by your GP surgery, the vaccination centre or the NHS to attend your vaccination appointment. Please do not ring your GP surgery to ask for an appointment but wait for them to contact you. You might hear via a letter in the post, an email, a text message or a phone call.

The third primary vaccination

People with weakened immune systems are being offered a THIRD primary COVID-19 vaccination, instead of just two doses. The third vaccination is NOT the same as a booster. It is a top up because while the first two doses will have offered some protection, they may not have generated a full immune response as they do in those who do not have weakened immune systems.

All people (including children aged 5 years and over) with weakened immune systems will be offered a third primary dose. This is in addition to the two primary doses you will have already received. As with the first two primary doses, please wait to be contacted by your GP surgery or consultant to be offered the third primary dose.

People who need a third dose are those who had a severely weakened immune system around the time they had their first 2 doses. This includes those who had or have:

  • Blood cancers (such as leukaemia or lymphoma)
  • Lowered immunity due to treatment (such as steroid medication, biological therapy, chemotherapy or radiotherapy)
  • Lowered immunity due to inherited disorders of the immune system
  • An organ or bone marrow transplant
  • Diseases that affect the immune system such as poorly controlled HIV
  • Other diseases or treatments as advised by your specialist

The third dose should be given at least eight weeks after the second dose, but timing will depend on any treatment you may be having. The third dose is a top up if you haven’t had a full immune response to the first two doses. The aim is to give you a similar level of protection as someone without a weakened immune system who has had two doses.

Read the government guidance for people whose immune system means they are at higher risk and see the advice on the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS website here.

The COVID-19 booster vaccination

The booster vaccination is different to the third primary vaccination. It is an extra dose being offered to all adults and to people who are considered clinically extremely vulnerable to COVID-19 to help them keep their immunity after the first two primary doses of vaccine. This will help maximise their protection against COVID-19 during the winter. The booster vaccination is to be given 3 months after the second primary dose of vaccine (or third primary dose of vaccine, if you had one).

As with your primary vaccinations, you will be contacted by your GP surgery, the vaccination centre or the NHS to attend your vaccination appointment. Please do not ring your GP surgery to ask for an appointment but wait for them to contact you. You might hear via a letter in the post, an email, a text message or a phone call.

Spring booster vaccinations

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has advised an additional spring booster dose for the most vulnerable people in the population. This includes people at much higher risk of severe COVID-19, and is a precautionary measure to maintain high levels of immunity. These people will be advised to have their next dose of vaccine around 6 months after the last vaccine dose for:

  • Adults aged 75 years and over
  • Residents in a care home for older adults
  • People aged 12 years and over who are immunosuppressed, as defined in the COVID 19 healthcare guidance Green Book

ESMO statements for vaccination against COVID-19 in patients with cancer

The European Society for Medical Oncology has issued statements for vaccination against COVID-19 in cancer patients.