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COVID vaccines and antiviral medications: update for immunocompromised children and adults with cancer

COVID vaccines and antiviral medications

From next Monday 5 September 2022, children aged between six months and five years who are at increased risk of severe COVID-19 due to health conditions such as cancer, can receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Expanded eligibility for antiviral medications for people who test positive for COVID-19, and pre-exposure prevention medications have also been announced.

For severely immunocompromised people, including many patients with cancer, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) recommends that people:

  • aged between six months and five receive two primary vaccine doses
  • aged five to 11 get three primary COVID-19 vaccine doses
  • aged 12 to 15 get three primary vaccine doses plus one booster dose (four doses in total)
  • aged 16 and over get three primary vaccine doses plus two booster doses (five doses in total).

Many people affected by cancer are immunocompromised – either because of their type of cancer, such as blood cancers, or as a result of their treatment, such as chemotherapy. This makes them more vulnerable to severe COVID-19 infection.

‘Primary doses’ refer to the initial course of a vaccine which helps protect against COVID-19. The ‘booster dose’ is an additional dose that helps strengthen the immune response against COVID-19 as the primary doses wane over time. To check eligibility for primary doses and boosters, visit the Australian Government website here.

For people who get COVID-19, oral antiviral medications (tablets, capsules) are available to help stop the infection from becoming severe. Antiviral treatments work best when taken within five days of the onset of symptoms.

The eligibility criteria for antivirals were recently expanded to include people aged 18 and over who are moderately to severely immunocompromised, such as people with blood cancers, or having treatment with chemotherapy. More information about antiviral medication is available here.

Severely immunocompromised people who are unlikely to respond to the vaccine can also take medicine to help prevent COVID-19. This is known as pre-exposure prevention. This is not recommended as a substitute for COVID-19 vaccination. More information about pre-exposure prevention medication is available here.

Cancer Australia CEO Professor Dorothy Keefe said it is important for cancer patients to talk with their healthcare team about the most suitable COVID-19 vaccines and treatments for them.

“Severely immunocompromised cancer patients are more vulnerable to COVID-19.” Professor Keefe said. “The best way cancer patients can protect themselves is by getting vaccinated, including receiving the recommended booster doses, and taking protective measures such as wearing face masks and social distancing.” 

Up-to-date  advice from ATAGI and the Australian Government Department of Health is explained in Cancer Australia’s Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about COVID-19 vaccines for people affected by cancer. The FAQs address questions and concerns of people affected by cancer and are regularly updated as new evidence emerges.

The FAQs include vaccine information for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people affected by cancer, developed in collaboration with Indigenous Australians and health experts.

The FAQs are also available in 10 commonly spoken languages in Australia: Arabic (العربية); Chinese, Simplified (简体中文); Chinese, Traditional (繁體中文); Greek (Ελληνικά); Hindi (हिन्दी); Italian (Italiano); Korean (한국어); Spanish (Español); Tagalog (Tagalog); Vietnamese (Tiếng Việt).

Media enquiries please contact the Media Officer on 0438 209 833 or  media.officer@canceraustralia.gov.au