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 all over Australia, we understand you have questions. We encourage you to complete an action plan here to discuss any concerns with your treatment team.
Page last updated: 2 February 2023
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
COVID-19: common questions
How do you test for COVID-19?
There are 2 types of tests 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 (these rules are changing on October 14).
- 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.
More information about testing positive is here.
Should I take anti-viral medicines?
Anti-viral medicines can help to reduce the effects of COVID-19 for vulnerable people. Ask your GP for advice. This video below also shares more information.
What are the current treatments for COVID-19?
From November 1, the eligibility criteria have been updated. More information can be found here.
We strongly encourage you to access the COVID Action Plan and discuss your options with your GP and/or treatment team.
People who are aged 18 and over who test positive for COVID-19 and are moderately to severely immunocompromised, may be eligible for antiviral treatments. 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.
- The Taskforce has recommended a repeat course of Evusheld six months after the first course for individuals who are severely immunocompromised.
- Sotrovimab –Xevudy
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.
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. Tips include:
- 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?
The Spikevax (Moderna) vaccine is approved for children aged 6 months to under 5 years with the following conditions:
- those undergoing treatment for cancer
- those undergoing bone marrow or stem cell transplant, or chimeric antigen T-cell (CAR-T) therapy.
Read the full ATAGI statement on vaccination for children aged 6 months to under 5 years here.
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.
What other support and information is available?
- If you need to talk, call 1800 620 420 to speak to a Blood Cancer Support Coordinator or fill out an online referral form here.
- Cancer Australia – Guidance for the management of patients with cancer during the COVID-19 pandemic. Visit https://canceraustralia.gov.au/affected-cancer/information-about-cancer-and-covid-19
- Beyond Blue – Beyond Blue has dedicated support for your mental wellbeing, visit https://coronavirus.beyondblue.org.au/
- Head to Health – 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. Visit https://www.headtohealth.gov.au/covid-19-support/covid-19-support
- Top 3 questions – Oral Treatments for COVID-19 with Dr Lucas de Toca
- (Part 1) Hear from Dr Lucas de Toca PSM on COVID-19 oral treatments, how the various medicines differ from each other, and who is eligible to receive them. https://www.health.gov.au/resources/videos/top-3-questions-oral-treatments-for-covid-19-with-dr-lucas-de-toca-part-1
- (Part 2) In this video Dr Lucas de Toca talks about COVID-19 oral treatments, including who is eligible, when to take them, and how to access them in rural or remote areas. https://www.health.gov.au/resources/videos/top-3-questions-oral-treatments-for-covid-19-with-dr-lucas-de-toca-part-2