Blood cancer and COVID-19
This page has the latest information and advice about COVID-19 for people living with blood cancer, including lymphoma, leukaemia, myeloma and related blood disorders.
With COVID-19 infections currently increasing all over Australia, we understand you have questions. We encourage you to complete an action plan and to discuss any concerns with your treatment team.
Page last updated: 12 July 2022
About coronavirus (COVID-19)
COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by a virus. The virus can spread from person to person, but good hygiene and social distancing can prevent infection. If vaccinated, most people infected with the virus will experience a mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment.
- sore throat
- shortness of breath.
Serious symptoms that you should call 000 for:
- difficulty breathing
- blue lips or face
- pain or pressure in the chest
- cold and clammy, or pale and mottled, skin
- fainting or collapsing
- being confused
- becoming difficult to wake up
- little or no urine output
- coughing up blood
The virus can spread from person to person, but good hygiene and social distancing can prevent infection. Most people infected with the virus will experience a mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment.
Testing for COVID-19
There are 2 types of test that can detect if you have the COVID-19 virus:
Polymerase chain reaction (PCR, or RT-PCR)
PCR tests are generally better at detecting the presence of COVID-19 than rapid antigen tests and include testing for:
- Influenza A and Influenza B
- Respiratory Syncytial Virus;
- and other respiratory viruses.
Rapid antigen self-tests (RATs)
You can access free RATs if you hold an eligible Commonwealth concession card:
- Commonwealth Seniors Health Card
- Department of Veteran’s Affairs Gold, White or Orange Card
- Health Care Card
- Low Income Health Card
- Pensioner Concession Card.
You can access up to 10 RATs over a 3 month period (max 5 over a 1 month period) through community pharmacies.
- If your rapid antigen or PCR test returns a positive result you must isolate at home.
- If you took a PCR test your local health department will contact you.
- If you took a rapid antigen test you must let health authorities know.
Are people with blood cancer more at risk?
You are at greater risk of severe illness if you have blood cancer. You are also at greater risk of severe illness if you are undertaking:
- immune suppressive therapy
- targeted anti-cancer therapy
- bone marrow transplant.
What is the best way to protect myself?
Everyone should practice good hygiene and social distancing to protect against infection:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, including before and after eating and after going to the toilet.
- Use alcohol-based hand sanitisers.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces and objects such as mobile phones.
- Stay 1.5 metres away from other people. This is called social distancing.
- Wearing a mask is an important protective measure – it is important to wear it properly
- do not reuse single use masks, wash and dry reusable masks after use and store in a clean dry place.
- make sure the mask covers your nose and mouth and fits snugly under your chin, over the bridge of your nose and against the sides of your face
What about vaccination?
Immunocompromised people aged 5 years and over require a third primary dose of a COVID-19 vaccine from 2 months (and no later than 6 months) after dose 2 to remain up to date. People aged 16 years and over are recommended a booster (fourth) dose, 3 months after dose 3 of their primary vaccination course.
From July 10, an additional booster, or fourth dose, is recommended for people at increased risk of severe illness, to be given 3 months after their first booster dose.
This additional booster will be a fifth dose for people who are immunocompromised
- None of the COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in Australia use the live or whole virus that causes COVID-19.
- The COVID-19 vaccines cannot give you COVID-19.
Current treatments for COVID-19
We strongly encourage you to access the COVID Action Plan and discuss your options with your GP and/or treatment team.
The National COVID-19 Clinical Evidence Taskforce provides guidance for immunosuppressed patients, including blood cancer patients:
Evusheld – Tixagevimab and Cilgavimab
Evusheld is an intra-muscular (IM) injection for the prevention (pre-exposure prophylaxis) of COVID-19 in people aged 12 years and older weighing at least 40kg with sub-optimal or no protection from COVID-19 vaccines
Sotrivumab, a monoclonal antibody treatment, can be used within the first 5 days of symptoms starting in patients aged 12 years or older with mild to moderate COVID-19 who are at high risk of progression to severe disease
Paxlovid – Nirmatrelvir and Ritonavir
Paxlovid is an oral anti-viral medicine which can be used by patients with mild-moderate COVID-19 who have a high risk for developing severe disease, reducing the need for admission to hospital
Paxlovid is a prescription only medicine which must be started as soon as possible after a diagnosis of COVID-19 and within 5 days of developing symptoms. The two active substances of the medicine, nirmatrelvir and ritonavir, which are given as separate tablets, must be taken together twice a day for 5 days.
Lagevrio – Molnupiravir
Lagevrio is an oral anti-viral medicine which can be used by patients with mild-moderate COVID-19 who have a high risk for developing severe disease, reducing the need for admission to hospital.
Lagevrio is a prescription only medicine which must be started as soon as possible after a diagnosis of COVID-19 and within 5 days of developing symptoms.
To access these medications, you need a prescription from an authorised prescriber e.g. general practitioner or a haematologist.
Ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine are disease-modifying treatments that are not recommended for the treatment of COVID-19 outside of randomised trials with appropriate ethical approval.
COVID-19: Winter 2022 update with Dr Nada Hamad and Dr Krispin Hajkowicz
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues and we enter the winter flu season, you may be wondering how to best avoid infection and manage your health. It can be hard to keep on top of the new variants and ATAGI guidelines around vaccination, treatment, testing and isolation.