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COVID-19 Vaccine Boosters and Additional Doses for People With Breast Cancer: Current Guidelines

Posted on October 07, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Todd Gersten, M.D.
Article written by
Alison Channon
Article written by
Victoria Menard

  • People who are immunocompromised, including some people undergoing treatment for breast cancer, may be eligible to receive a third dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also has recommended Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine booster shots at least six months after their second dose for certain high-risk individuals.

People with breast cancer may be eligible to receive a third dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine shot at least 28 days after completing their two-dose series. Additionally, they may be eligible for a booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine at least six months after receiving their second dose.

On Aug. 12, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) amended the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines’ emergency use authorizations to allow a third vaccine dose at least 28 days after the second dose for certain immunocompromised individuals. A third dose may be recommended for those who did not develop an adequate immune response after the two-dose vaccination series.

Individuals defined as immunocompromised include:

  • People receiving active cancer treatment for tumors or cancers of the blood
  • People who received a stem cell transplant in the last two years
  • People who are organ donor recipients and taking immunosuppressive drugs
  • People taking high-dose steroids or other immunosuppressive drugs, as well as those with certain other health conditions

Third Doses for People With Breast Cancer

People who are in active treatment for breast cancer — including chemotherapy, treatment for tumors, or high-dose corticosteroids — may have weakened immune systems and, therefore, be eligible for a third dose of the Pfizer or Moderna’s messenger RNA (mRNA) COVID-19 vaccine. However, as the Breast Cancer Research Foundation notes, not all people with cancer are immunocompromised — even those undergoing cancer treatment.

The best way to determine whether you might benefit from an additional dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine is to talk to your doctor. They will assess your individual risk and provide guidance on whether getting a third dose is recommended.

There is not yet guidance from the FDA or CDC on additional doses for immunocompromised people who received the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Vaccine Booster Shots for People With Breast Cancer

If you have breast cancer but don’t qualify for a third dose of the vaccine 28 days after your second Pfizer or Moderna shot, you may be eligible to receive a Pfizer booster shot under new guidelines from the CDC. These boosters are available only to those who received the two-dose Pfizer series.

A COVID-19 vaccine booster is for individuals who developed adequate immunity following their initial vaccine doses but then experienced a decrease in immunity over time.

On Sept. 24, the CDC recommended booster shots of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at least six months after a second dose in the following groups:

  • People 65 and older
  • Residents of long-term care facilities
  • People ages 50 to 64 with underlying medical conditions that place them at high risk for severe COVID-19

The CDC recommendations state that people ages 18 to 49 with underlying medical conditions and people ages 18 to 64 who are at risk of COVID-19 exposure due to their work or living arrangements may receive a booster shot of the Pfizer vaccine — based on their individual benefits and risks.

The CDC identifies cancer, lung disease like asthma, diabetes, heart disease, and current or former smoking as underlying conditions.

The CDC and FDA have not yet released recommendations for boosters of the Moderna vaccine or Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Both companies have submitted data on booster shots to the FDA for review.

Benefits of Vaccine ‘Far Outweigh Any Potential Risks’

In April, MyBCTeam sat down with Dr. Avan Armaghani, an oncologist in the department of breast oncology at Moffitt Cancer Center.

In that conversation, Dr. Armaghani stressed that people living with breast cancer can benefit from getting vaccinated. “When we weigh the benefits and risks of the vaccination, the benefits of having some immunity and defense from this virus far outweigh any potential risks of receiving the vaccine,” she said. “The vaccination definitely gives people that level of protection against the potential serious and life-threatening complications that could result if they were to contract COVID-19.”

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Todd Gersten, M.D. is a hematologist-oncologist at the Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute in Wellington, Florida. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Alison Channon has nearly a decade of experience writing about chronic health conditions, mental health, and women's health. Learn more about her here.
Victoria Menard is a writer at MyHealthTeam. Learn more about her here.

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