There is a common misconception that vaccines can be harmful if you’re being treated for breast cancer. Actually, though, getting both the flu shot and pneumonia vaccine (if you need one) is a smart move because they can help protect you against infection — especially important when your immune system is weaker than normal. These vaccines are safe because they are made with dead germs or proteins that come from germs. That is, they contain dead influenza virus or pneumococcal bacteria, which can’t harm you but can “program” your immune system to respond to any threats from the live virus or bacteria.
Another vaccine that is safe for the same reason is the Tdap, a booster shot that protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (better known as whooping cough).
You and your doctor can discuss your immunization history to figure out what makes sense for you. You can get a flu shot at any time, even during cancer treatment, but it’s generally not recommended to have other vaccines during chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
Also not recommended are any vaccines made with viruses that are alive. These aren’t considered safe during cancer treatments that suppress the immune system. This includes Flu-mist, the nasal mist version of the flu vaccine, which is made from a weakened version of the live virus. It’s generally okay to be around people who’ve had it, but during cancer treatment you should have the regular flu shot.
Other live vaccines that aren’t recommended include:
- polio and smallpox
- varicella (chickenpox)
- varicella zoster (shingles)
Most people have already had the first three of these vaccines by the time they reach adulthood, or they had chickenpox as a child. However, the shingles vaccine is recommended for people over age 60 who’ve had chickenpox. If you need it, you’ll want to delay this vaccine until you’re finished with treatment and your immune system has had time to recover.
Talk to your doctor about whether or not it’s safe for you to be around others who’ve recently had vaccinations made from live germs.
Read more about the flu shot and pneumococcal vaccine: