About the COVID-19 coronavirus

For patients with questions on the COVID-19 vaccine

Due to questions from our patients about the COVID-19 vaccine and our commitment to ensure we empower our patients with information, we are providing the following update on CDC guidelines. The CDC now recommends that individuals with moderately to severely compromised immune systems receive an additional dose of mRNA COVID-19 vaccine at least 28 days after a second dose of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. This includes 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

We continue to recommend that individuals discuss with their health care provider about whether getting an additional dose is appropriate for them. Please visit the CDC website for more information and FAQs.

What is COVID-19?

Coronaviruses in general are common viruses that may cause colds or more serious respiratory illnesses.

COVID-19 is caused by the coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2. This strain of the virus was discovered in China in December 2019; and has now spread around the world. Several variants of SARS-CoV-2 have been reported in the United States and around the world. The virus that causes the COVID-19 infection is not the same as the coronaviruses that commonly cause mild illness such as the common cold. For this strain, CO stands for corona, VI for virus and D for disease, and 19 because it was first discovered in 2019.

What are the symptoms?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to update the list of symptoms COVID-19 patients may experience. Its latest update says common symptoms of the infection include a cough and shortness of breath but may also include the following:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Repeated shaking with chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • New loss of taste or smell

Symptoms can appear as soon as two days or as long as two weeks after exposure.

What should I do if I have symptoms?

Call your doctor immediately, especially if you have traveled recently or think you have been in contact with someone who is suspected to have the virus.

How does the virus spread?

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the virus spreads mainly from person to person:

  • When somebody who is infected and coughs or sneezes, the virus can be spread in respiratory droplets.
  • These droplets might reach the mouths or noses of people who are in close contact (within about 6 feet), which could lead to an infection.
  • The droplets can also land on surfaces, which people might then touch. This could potentially lead to an infection if a person then touches his or her mouth or nose. However, this type of spread is much less common than from respiratory droplets inhaled directly.

How will I be able to tell if I have COVID-19, a cold or the flu?

It may be difficult to distinguish one viral infection from another when experiencing mild symptoms, especially with no recent travel or contact with someone known to have COVID-19. If your symptoms worsen or you develop shortness of breath, we recommend seeking medical attention and testing for flu and/or COVID-19.

What you should know about the COVID-19 variants and vaccinations:

How are the COVID-19 variant outbreaks different than the initial COVID-19 outbreak?

The rapid spread of variants like delta and omicron is fueled not only by the higher transmission rates of these variants but also by the large number of unvaccinated Americans. Getting vaccinated prevents severe illness, hospitalization and death. With the evolution of variants like delta and omicron, vaccination is more urgent than ever to help control further spread of the virus.

What is the prognosis for unvaccinated individuals who catch COVID-19?

More than 97 percent of those hospitalized with this surge of COVID-19 are unvaccinated. For unvaccinated individuals who become critically ill with COVID-19, the prognosis is poor with mortality ranging from 25-50 percent, which is largely driven by severe respiratory distress.

Are the Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines effective against COVID-19 variants?

The COVID-19 virus has multiple variants that are spreading within the U.S. and other parts of the world, and scientists are working to learn more about them. In a study from the United Kingdom, for example, estimated vaccine effectiveness against symptomatic COVID-19 infection caused by delta remained high at 88 percent effectiveness. Newer studies from the United Kingdom found that the vaccines were less effective against the omicron variant, but that booster shots restored the immunity back to high levels. The CDC continues to track future mutations.

Once I’m vaccinated, can I still catch COVID-19?

The COVID-19 vaccination is similar to the flu vaccination in that vaccinated individuals can still catch COVID-19. However, the severity of the COVID-19 infection is dramatically lessened in vaccinated individuals and the chances of hospitalization or death are extremely rare. Data shows that even when vaccinated patients are hospitalized with breakthrough infections, they are far less likely to need supplemental oxygen, and they clear the virus faster compared with unvaccinated patients.  

If I’ve already had COVID-19 and have antibodies, should I still receive the vaccine?

 Getting COVID-19 might offer some natural protection or immunity from reinfection with COVID-19, but this protection has been shown to fade over time. Furthermore, people have variable immune responses to the virus, and it's not clear how long this protection lasts. Because reinfection is possible and COVID-19 can cause severe medical complications, persons with documented acute COVID-19 infection more than 90 days ago should receive the vaccine.

About COVID-19 and cancer

As a cancer patient, am I more likely to get sick from COVID-19?

Symptoms vary widely in people with COVID-19, ranging from no symptoms to severe pneumonia. Cancer patients may be at a higher risk of more severe symptoms because of their immune system may be compromised by their disease or due to medications and treatments. Like other healthy people, they should do their best to avoid infection. This includes:

  • Avoiding crowded public places
  • Washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Avoiding touching their face
  • Covering their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
  • Avoiding others who are unwell
  • Staying home when sick
  • Getting vaccinated

Are all cancer patients at risk, or only those in active treatment?

Research indicates cancer patients who are in active treatment for their disease may have a higher risk, especially those on chemotherapy drugs. These drugs may cause side effects that decrease the body’s ability to produce infection-fighting white blood cells.

Patients diagnosed with blood cancers, such as leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myelomas, may be at higher risk than those with other cancers. Blood cancers often start in the bone marrow and disrupt the normal production of immune cells. These cancers may also affect the lymph system, including the spleen, thymus and lymph nodes, which help store immune cells and filter out impurities. And because COVID-19 attacks the lungs, patients with underlying chronic lung disease who develop lung cancer are at an increased risk of severe symptoms from the virus. Some long-term cancer survivors may also be at higher risk, according to a study by doctors at Penn Medicine. Some cancers treatments, such as chemotherapy and certain surgeries may make it more difficult for some survivors to fight off infection. Age, obesity, smoking and some lifestyle habits that may have contributed to cancer risk may also increase risk of hospitalization, serious symptoms or death from COVID-19  

Cancer patients may have alterations in their immune system leading to higher risk for COVID-19, whether on active treatment or not. Non-cancer associated risk factors (such as age, obesity, smoking and some lifestyle habits) may also increase risk of hospitalization, severity of symptoms and death from COVID-19.

Should I keep my follow-up appointments, or is it better to avoid the hospital for the time being?

It’s important for cancer patients to keep diagnostic, treatment and follow-up visits whenever possible. Patients should contact their CTCA care team if they have concerns about coming into the hospital or Outpatient Care Center.  It may also be possible to arrange remote telehealth visits with members of your care team. At-home infusion services may also be an option for certain patients.  

Learn more about CTCA Anywhere and Oncology Infusion at Home services.

Patients who have mild symptoms, such as runny nose or cough, should take the same precautions they would for the common cold. Patients who have worsening symptoms or shortness of breath should call their primary care provider for recommendations. Patients who are unable to reach their primary care provider should seek immediate medical attention.

Should cancer patients avoid public transportation and events? Is it safe to leave home at all?

Although vaccination has changed how persons can interact in the community, there is still higher precautions recommended for cancer patients. Social distancing is recommended for cancer patients to limit the risk of COVID-19 exposure. This includes limiting crowded and closed spaces such as buses, trains, airplanes, taxis or ride-share vehicles. Movie theaters, malls or and restaurants continue to be higher risk for persons with cancer, even if vaccinated. This does not mean that you can’t leave home at all. When you do go out, the most important aspect is prevention; hand hygiene is critical. The CDC has loosened mask guidelines for people who are vaccinated. But it’s a good idea for cancer patients to continue to wear masks in public, even if they have been vaccinated.

As a cancer patient, is it safe for me to travel by airplane right now?

Cancer patients are considered at higher risk from COVID-19. For your safety, we advise that you limit unnecessary travel. When necessary, it is recommended that you travel by car and avoid large crowds. Please call your care team to determine next steps in your treatment. (Current CTCA® patients can contact their care team here.)

Masks are required on all airplanes, buses and trains and in airports, stations and terminals. Before your flight, check with your airline to see whether any other restrictions are required.

Protecting yourself and others from COVID-19

What can I do to protect myself from the virus?

  • Get vaccinated if you are able. Talk to your doctor about whether a COVID-19 vaccine would be safe and advisable for you.
  • Avoid crowds
  • Wash your hands frequently with warm water and soap, for at least 20 seconds. Use hand sanitizer if hand washing is not possible.
  • Avoid touching your mouth, eyes and nose.
  • For disinfection, diluted household bleach solutions, alcohol solutions with at least 70 percent alcohol, and most common EPA-registered household disinfectants should be effective. The approved list of products can be found on the EPA website.
  • Use a disposable towel or tissue to cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough, and wash your hands after.
  • Avoid people who are sick—and stay home if you’re sick.
  • Disinfect countertops, door handles, telephones and other frequently touched objects.
  • Be vigilant about avoiding exposure to illnesses such as influenza and measles and require the same of your family and caregivers.

If you had COVID-19 and recovered, can you still transmit the disease?

Yes. As someone recovers from COVID-19, they might be capable of transmitting the virus to others even though feeling better. The period of time that this might occur is variable depending upon your condition, and a discussion with your doctor is advised.

If you get the COVID-19 once, can you contract it again?

Doctors have reported rare cases in which people have been re-infected with COVID-19.

What should I do if a family member develops symptoms?

If family members develop an illness, it is essential that they and you wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds each time. To reduce the risk of infection, wear a mask at home, keep surfaces clean and maintain distance from them if possible–CDC recommends at least six feet.

How can I know the health of my immune system? Is there a test?

A blood test can determine whether you have a healthy amount of white blood cells and immunoglobulins, or antibodies, which help fight infection. But there is no reliable test to determine the overall strength of your immune system. However, cancer patients, especially those diagnosed with blood cancers, such as leukemia or lymphoma, or who are on certain medications, such as chemotherapy drugs or hormone therapy, may have compromised immune systems and should take steps to avoid exposure to infections.

How can I keep my immune system strong?

Here are some tips to help support a healthy immune system:

  • Eat a diet rich in colorful fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes.
  • Eat lean meats and fish in moderation.
  • Avoid processed and charred meats.
  • Reduce or eliminate alcohol.
  • Avoid all tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, pipes and chew.
  • Get plenty of restful sleep.
  • Exercise and stay active. Consult your doctor before starting a new exercise plan.

Is there a vaccine against the novel coronavirus?

Yes. The FDA has approved multiple vaccines for COVID-19. Talk to your doctor about whether the vaccine would be safe and advisable for you.

Learn more about which vaccine is best for cancer patients.

Can I get COVID-19 from a blood transfusion, infusion or injection?

There is no evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted through a transfusion, injection or infusion. COVID-19 is transmitted from aerosol droplets sprayed into the air by sneezing or coughing. A person may become infected when these droplets are inhaled or otherwise reach their nose, mouth or eyes. A person may also be infected it he or she touches droplets that land on surfaces, such as a table, keyboard or phone, then touches the mouth, nose or eyes.

Should people still get screened for cancer during this national emergency?

Yes, these screenings are essential, and to make it easier for patients to have access to the screenings and other procedures they need, the U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recently released guidelines for hospitals to restart essential non-COVID care as part of the Opening Up American Plan. The change in policy is critical because experts continue to be concerned about how delays in care are affecting patient outcomes, especially in light of a recent American Cancer Society survey that cited disruptions and delays in more than 50 percent of cancer patient care.

Should I wear a face mask to protect myself from COVID-19?

The CDC now recommends everyone wear cloth face coverings in public places, such as grocery stores, where social distancing may be difficult. The CDC says these coverings may help slow the spread of COVID-19 by people who may have the virus, but are not yet exhibiting symptoms. The agency suggests making masks from old clothing or other household materials, but it does not recommend using surgical masks or N95 respirators, since those supplies are needed by health care workers. Some airlines are now requiring that all passengers wear face coverings on all flights. Before your flight, check with your airline to see if those or any other restrictions are required.

Is it OK to use valet parking, ride-sharing services and rental cars?

If you need to use these services, we recommend you use antibacterial wipes to clean the steering wheel (if you’re driving), door handles, gear shift and any other buttons or levers that might have been touched by someone else. And importantly, don’t forget for to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with warm water and soap at your next opportunity. Use hand sanitizer when hand washing is not possible, and avoid touching your face.

What are the current travel restrictions?

There are no restrictions for traveling within the United States. The CDC recommends that people delay travel plans until they are fully vaccinated. People who are vaccinated can travel safely within the United States, but they still need to wear a mask on planes, trains and buses.

International travel exposes people to additional risks, including exposure to COVID-19 variants. The CDC requires air passengers arriving to the United States from other countries to get tested no more than three days before their flight and share test results or documentation of having recovered from COVID-19 with the airline before boarding.

Travel to and from certain countries may be restricted or not recommended.

Click here for more information on domestic and international travel guidelines from the CDC,