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Breast Cancer and Vaccines

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There is a common misconception that vaccines can be harmful if you’re being treated for breast cancer. In reality, it is safe and beneficial to receive certain vaccines during breast cancer treatment.

Of note, you can safely get a flu shot, the pneumonia vaccine (if you need one), and the COVID-19 vaccine during breast cancer treatment. These vaccines can help protect you against infection, which is especially important when your immune system may be weakened by treatments like chemotherapy. These vaccines are safe because they are made with “dead” germs or proteins that come from germs, which can’t harm you but can program your immune system to respond to any threats from the live virus or bacteria.

Other vaccines that are safe during treatment include the Tdap, a booster shot that protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (better known as whooping cough) and Shingrix, a vaccine that is approved for the prevention of shingles in people with weakened immune systems.

You and your doctor can discuss your immunization history and breast cancer treatment plan to decide if it makes sense for you to get any necessary vaccines during cancer treatment.

It’s important to know that not all vaccines are made with inactivated germs. Some types of vaccines are made with germs that are alive, and these are generally not recommended during cancer treatments that suppress the immune system. Flu-mist, for example, is the nasal mist version of the flu vaccine, which is made from a weakened version of the live influenza virus. It’s generally OK to be around people who’ve had this vaccine, but during cancer treatment you should have the regular flu shot.

Other live vaccines that aren’t recommended include:

  • polio and smallpox
  • measles-mumps-rubella
  • varicella (chickenpox)
  • Zostavax (a live shingles vaccine)

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 50 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, or get the shingles vaccine that does not use a live virus (called Shingrix).

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:

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