Beating bowel cancer together

COVID-19 vaccine

Page updated: Wednesday 4 January 2023

An effective vaccine is the best way to protect people from coronavirus and will save thousands of lives.

Following extensive safety trials and authorisation by the independent regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), effective COVID-19 vaccines are available in the UK for free.

You can book your vaccination appointment online or over the phone. There is separate guidance on how to book your vaccination appointment for people in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Information about the vaccination in other languages can be found on the NHS website.

Which doses of the vaccine can I have?

First and second primary doses
Everyone aged 5 and over can get a first and second primary dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Third primary dose
Those who have a severely weakened immune system (immunosuppressed) are eligible to have a third primary dose. If you're aged five or over and have recently had treatment for bowel cancer, such as immunosuppressive chemotherapy or radiotherapy, you'll be offered three primary doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. These are also known as the first, second and third primary doses.

Studies have shown that people with a severely weakened immune system may be less protected than the wider population The third dose will help protect those with severely weakened immune systems from the virus.

Speak to your healthcare team if you think you may be eligible for the third dose. The third dose will not be offered to everyone on the original list of clinically extremely vulnerable people. You can book your vaccination appointment through the links at the top of this page.

A booster dose is one that is given much further down the line, separately from the primary doses of vaccination, to extend the duration of protection that has been given.

Booster vaccines will be offered to everyone aged 16 and over and some children aged 12 to 15. This is to maintain the high level of protection against hospitalisation from the virus during the winter months.

Seasonal boosters
People aged over 50 and those who are at higher risk of serious illness from coronavirus will be offered a seasonal booster. This includes some people with bowel cancer who have had treatment that has weakened their immune system.

Check guidance on how to receive the seasonal booster if you live in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

People who have bowel cancer and are immunosuppressed will be eligible for:

  • three primary doses of the vaccine
  • the first booster dose of the vaccine
  • seasonal boosters

Speak to your healthcare team if you have questions about COVID-19 vaccines.

How will I find out if I should have the third dose?

People who are severely immunosuppressed and are eligible for the third dose will receive a letter from their GP or their healthcare team. The letter will have information about arranging your appointment for your third dose.

If you think you should have been invited to have a third dose but have not received a letter, contact your GP.

Will I be offered the seasonal booster dose?

The following people will be offered seasonal booster vaccinations. This booster dose of the vaccine will be offered to:

  • people aged 50 years and older
  • people aged five and over in a clinical risk group, including people having immunosuppressive treatments (such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy for bowel cancer)
  • people aged five and over who live with or care for someone who is immunosuppressed

Check guidance on how to receive the seasonal booster if you live in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

Which vaccine will I get?

If you're aged five or above, you may be offered:

  • Pfizer BioNTech (Comirnaty)
  • Moderna (Spikevax)
  • Novavax (Nuvaxovid)

Is it safe to have the COVID-19 and flu vaccine around the same time?

It's safe to have both the flu and COVID-19 vaccines around the same time. Having one of the vaccines shouldn't delay you from getting the other. It's important you take up the offer of both vaccines when you're able to receive it. You may receive them separately or at the same time.

Are the vaccines safe for people with bowel cancer?

The vaccines are safe for people with bowel cancer who are having cancer treatment and/or on clinical trials.

It's recommended that you don't receive the vaccine on the same day as your cancer treatment, if:

  • you're experiencing severe side effects from treatment
  • you're within seven days before a scheduled surgery and until full recovery after being discharged

All vaccines go through robust clinical trials, safety checks and quality controls to make sure they are safe and to maximise patient benefit. The UK has some of the highest safety standards in the world and the MHRA is globally recognised for requiring the highest standards for quality, safety and medicines regulation.

The trials for the vaccines involved lots of different people with underlying health conditions so that researchers can see if the vaccines have an effect on them. There's no indication that there should be any difficulty in giving the vaccines to people with underlying conditions.

If you have any worries or questions, speak to your healthcare team.

Will the vaccines protect me from getting COVID-19?

The COVID-19 vaccines that have been approved in the UK are effective at protecting against coronavirus. Two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine should give you good protection. Having a booster or third dose the vaccine will protect you against COVID-19 for longer.

The vaccine may be less effective in some cancer patients. This might be because their immune systems are weaker due to treatment, such as from chemotherapy, radiotherapy or targeted therapies. More research is needed to fully understand why the vaccine is less effective in people with cancer. The vaccines do still give some protection against the virus and so it's important that people continue to have the vaccine.

There's a chance you might still get or spread coronavirus even if you have the vaccine. This is why it's important to continue to act carefully and remain cautious.

You can't catch COVID-19 from the vaccine. The Government is closely monitoring the impact on individuals, on NHS pressures and on the spread of the virus.

What are the side effects of the vaccine?

Like all medicines, vaccines can cause side effects. Most of the side effects are mild and don't usually last longer than a week. Not everyone will get side effects.

The side effects can include:

  • having a sore arm where the needle went in
  • feeling tired
  • a headache
  • feeling achy
  • feeling or being sick

You can find out more about the side effects of the vaccines on the NHS website.

If you have a history of serious allergic reactions to the ingredients in the vaccines, you shouldn't get the vaccine. A list of ingredients in the vaccines can be found here:

If you have a history of serious reactions to other allergens such as foods and certain medicines, you can still have the vaccine.

Can I have the vaccine if I am having cancer treatment?

If you're planned to have treatment for cancer soon, you may be offered the vaccine before your operation or before the start of your treatment. This can depend on different factors, for example how safe it's to delay your cancer treatment by around a couple of weeks, to allow time for you to have the vaccine. Urgent treatments shouldn't be delayed by vaccination.

You may also have the vaccine if you have finished cancer treatment and are having regular follow up appointments.

Ask your healthcare team if you can have the vaccine or have any questions about the vaccine and your treatment.

Can I choose which vaccine I have?

No. All of the vaccines that are available have been approved because they pass the MHRA's tests on safety and are effective in protecting you against COVID-19.

Are the vaccines compulsory?

There are currently no plans in place to make the COVID-19 vaccine compulsory. The UK operates a system of informed consent for vaccinations.

What is the vaccine pass?

The NHS COVID pass lets individuals share their coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination and test results in a secure way. You can get the vaccine pass through the NHS app, an email or a letter. In England, the UK government now recommends the NHS COVID Pass is only used for foreign travel.

  • Find out more about the NHS COVID pass in England
  • In Scotland you can share your COVID status or COVID passport
  • In Wales you can get a NHS COVID pass
  • In Northern Ireland you can get a COVID certificate

For full information about the COVID-19 vaccines, visit the government websites for your nation.

See all our Coronavirus advice and guidance

Listen to Consultant Clinical Oncologist, Professor Mark Saunders answer a range of questions about the coronavirus vaccine and bowel cancer in the video below.

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Your support helps save lives. Donate now and help us ensure a future where nobody dies of bowel cancer.

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