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NCCN Shares New Guidance Principles for Vaccinating People with Cancer Against COVID-19

Leading cancer and infectious disease experts offer preliminary advice on how to quickly, safely, and efficiently protect vulnerable patients from COVID-19; with more updates to come.

PLYMOUTH MEETING, PA [January 22, 2021] — The National Comprehensive Cancer Network® (NCCN®) put out new information today to provide guidance for COVID-19 vaccinations in people with cancer. The nonprofit alliance of leading cancer centers created an NCCN COVID-19 Vaccine Committee that includes top hematology and oncology experts with particular expertise in infectious diseases, vaccine development and delivery, medical ethics, and health information technology. These recommendations can help cancer care providers make informed decisions on how to protect their patients from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, based on available evidence plus expert consensus. The committee’s recommendations state that all people currently in active cancer treatment should get the vaccine, with some advice to consider regarding immunosuppression and timing. The full document can be found at NCCN.org/covid-19, along with other vital information about the impact of COVID-19 on cancer care.

“Right now, there is urgent need and limited data,” explained Steve Pergam, MD, MPH, Associate Professor, Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Infection Prevention Director at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, co-leader of the NCCN COVID-19 Vaccine Committee. “Our number one goal is helping to get the vaccine to as many people as we can. That means following existing national and regional directions for prioritizing people who are more likely to face death or severe illness from COVID-19. The evidence we have shows that people receiving active cancer treatment are at greater risk for worse outcomes from COVID-19, particularly if they are older and have additional comorbidities, like immunosuppression.”

“My philosophy is don’t waste a dose and keep it simple,” said committee co-leader Lindsey Baden, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Infectious Disease, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. “Too many caveats can lead to confusion. Of course, if strong new evidence comes out to support prioritizing certain groups over others, we can always adjust. This is intended to be a living document that is constantly evolving – it will be updated rapidly whenever new data comes out, as well as any potential new vaccines that may get approved in the future.”

“One of our primary goals is reducing morbidity and mortality,” said Sirisha Narayana, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Chair of the UCSF Ethics Committee, UCSF Health. “We also have to take social determinants of health into account and make special efforts for people in high-risk communities.”

This new guidance statement from NCCN builds off of existing understanding and guidelines for the flu vaccine during active cancer treatment—such as those in the NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®) for Prevention and Treatment of Cancer-Related Infections.

The guidance acknowledges that although these vaccines have been shown to be safe in general populations, their effectiveness among cancer and transplant patients is not precisely known at present. Available data from vaccine trials have demonstrated that vaccines decrease the incidence of COVID-19 disease and complications, but it is unclear if these vaccines prevent infection and subsequent transmission. Therefore, everyone should continue to wear masks, avoid large gatherings, and follow other recommendations for preventing COVID-19 acquisition and transmission, even after vaccination. The committee feels strongly that caregivers and other members of the same household should also be encouraged to get the vaccine as soon they are considered eligible where they live. 

The committee also addressed issues such as:

  • how to prioritize patients in the event of limited supplies and staff capacity;
  • how to recommend appropriate scheduling based around immunosuppressive therapy;
  • how to prepare for possible medication interactions or adverse events;
  • how to account for societal inequities and prioritize at-risk communities;
  • how to communicate with patients and caregivers, particularly non-English speakers;
  • and the balance of vaccination efforts between the cancer center and community settings.

The panel will continue to meet regularly in order to refine the recommendations for these and other issues, as they come up. Any open questions can also serve as a guide for areas where new research is most needed.

“The medical community is rising to one of the biggest challenges we have ever faced,” said Robert W. Carlson, MD, Chief Executive Officer, NCCN. “The COVID-19 vaccines exemplify the heights of scientific achievement. Now we have to distribute them quickly, equitably, safely and, efficiently, using clearly defined and transparent principles.”

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About the National Comprehensive Cancer Network

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network® (NCCN®) is a not-for-profit alliance of leading cancer centers devoted to patient care, research, and education. NCCN is dedicated to improving and facilitating quality, effective, efficient, and accessible cancer care so patients can live better lives. The NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®) provide transparent, evidence-based, expert consensus recommendations for cancer treatment, prevention, and supportive services; they are the recognized standard for clinical direction and policy in cancer management and the most thorough and frequently-updated clinical practice guidelines available in any area of medicine. The NCCN Guidelines for Patients® provide expert cancer treatment information to inform and empower patients and caregivers, through support from the NCCN Foundation®. NCCN also advances continuing education, global initiatives, policy, and research collaboration and publication in oncology. Visit NCCN.org for more information and follow NCCN on Facebook @NCCNorg, Instagram @NCCNorg, and Twitter @NCCN.

About the National Comprehensive Cancer Network

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network® (NCCN®) is a not-for-profit alliance of 30 leading cancer centers devoted to patient care, research, and education. NCCN is dedicated to improving and facilitating quality, effective, efficient, and accessible cancer care so patients can live better lives. Through the leadership and expertise of clinical professionals at NCCN Member Institutions, NCCN develops resources that present valuable information to the numerous stakeholders in the health care delivery system. By defining and advancing high-quality cancer care, NCCN promotes the importance of continuous quality improvement and recognizes the significance of creating clinical practice guidelines appropriate for use by patients, clinicians, and other health care decision-makers around the world.



The NCCN Member Institutions are:

  • Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania
  • Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center
  • Case Comprehensive Cancer Center/University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center and Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Institute
  • City of Hope National Medical Center
  • Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center | Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center
  • Duke Cancer Institute
  • Fox Chase Cancer Center
  • Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah
  • Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center/Seattle Cancer Care Alliance
  • The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins
  • Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University
  • Mayo Clinic Cancer Center
  • Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
  • Moffitt Cancer Center
  • The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center - James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute
  • O'Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB
  • Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center
  • Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine
  • St. Jude Children's Research Hospital/The University of Tennessee Health Science Center
  • Stanford Cancer Institute
  • UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center
  • UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center
  • UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center
  • University of Colorado Cancer Center
  • University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center
  • The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
  • University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center
  • UT Southwestern Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center
  • Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center
  • Yale Cancer Center/Smilow Cancer Hospital