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Blood cancer and COVID-19: FAQs

With large numbers of infections currently all over Australia, we understand you have questions – please discuss any concerns you have about your particular circumstances with your treatment team.

We are closely monitoring the situation and continuing to speak with the clinical community, many of whom are on the Blood Cancer Taskforce. We will ensure any new advice or guidance is provided to people living with blood cancer through our various information channels.

What is coronavirus (COVID-19)?

COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by a virus. Symptoms include: 

  • fever
  • coughing
  • 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.

Are people with blood cancer more at risk?

Older people and those with cancer, including blood cancers, are more likely to develop serious illness. The best way to protect yourself and others around you is to be well informed about the disease and how the virus spreads.

If you are receiving cancer treatment that suppresses your immune system and you develop a fever or respiratory symptoms, call a member of your treatment team, as you usually would if you develop a fever while on treatment.

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.
  • CIean and disinfect frequently used surfaces and objects such as mobile phones.
  • Stay 1.5 metres away from other people. This is called social distancing.

As well as practicing good hygiene: 

  • Ensure you have adequate prescription and over-the-counter medications.
  • Think about having the chemist deliver your medicines.
  • Wearing a mask is an important protective measure – it is important to wear it properly
  • wash or sanitise your hands before putting it on or taking it off
  • 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
  • do not touch the front of your mask while wearing or removing it
  • do not allow the mask to hang around your neck or under your nose
  • do not reuse single use masks, wash and dry reusable masks after use and store in a clean dry place.

Access a COVID-19 vaccine when you can: 

What about a third/booster doses of the vaccine?

People with blood cancer tend to be immunosuppressed, which means their immune system doesn’t work as effectively as it should. This means you may or may not have developed antibodies to the virus from your first two doses of the vaccine.

ATAGI (Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation) is closely monitoring local and international data about the frequency and severity of COVID-19 in fully vaccinated individuals. ATAGI is also reviewing the international data on the efficacy, effectiveness and safety of additional doses for specific high-risk patient populations, including immunocompromised individuals.

ATAGI has released advice for severely immunocompromised patients who require a third and booster doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

You can read the latest ATAGI statement here.

We have recently talked to some experts about COVID-19 vaccinations and people living with blood cancer. 

What is happening with antibody testing and vaccination?

We do not currently know how well the levels of antibodies reflect the effectiveness of vaccines. Antibodies are only one piece of a complex immune puzzle. That’s why it’s important to remember that even if you don’t have antibodies following vaccination, you may still be protected. There are two parts to this:

  • There are cells involved in protecting us against disease, such as B-cells. These cells produce antibodies that can be identified in an antibody test.
  • T-cells also play an important role in fighting infection, but they are much more difficult to identify using antibody testing. Antibody tests won’t be able to tell you if you have produced T-cells from vaccination.

We know that both B-cells and T-cells are important but aren’t sure yet which ones are the most important in fighting COVID-19. This means that an antibody test does not give you the full picture of your immunity against COVID-19.

This also means that you need to continue to practice good hand hygiene, socially distance and wear face masks to protect yourself and those around you.

Are there new treatments for COVID-19?

In August 2021, the National COVID-19 Clinical Evidence Taskforce provided guidance for immunosuppressed patients, including blood cancer patients:

  • Regdanvimab (Regkirona) – used for adult patients who have confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection.
  • Tocilizumab (Actemra) – used for adult patients requiring oxygen
  • Casirivimab and imdevimab (Ronapreve) – used for patients aged 12 years and older with moderate to critical COVID-19.
  • Sotrovimab (Xevudy) – used within the first 5 days of symptoms starting in patients aged 12 years or older with mild to moderate COVID-19.
  • Remdesivir (Veklury) – used in adults hospitalised with moderate to severe COVID-19.
  • Tixagevimab and Cilgavimab (Evusheld) – used for prevention and treatment of COVID-19 in individuals aged 12 years and older.
  • 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.

The TGA is also currently evaluating:

  • Molnupiravir – an antiviral treatment that comes in tablet form
  • A treatment called PF-07321332, which will be used in combination with ritonavir

 What other support is available?

  • If you need to talk, call 1800 820 420 to speak to a Blood Cancer Support Coordinator
  • Beyond Blue has dedicated support for your mental wellbeing
  • Head to Health is an Australian Government initiative that can help you find digital mental health services from some of Australia’s most trusted mental health organisations.

Last updated 14 January 2022.