Cancer Patients and the Flu Vaccine

by Emilly Mackler, Pharm.D.

Last year's flu season was complicated. The H1N1 virus -- the swine flu -- came on quickly and unexpectedly, leading to demand for a new vaccine to supplement the usual seasonal flu shot. Because people with cancer already have weakened immune systems, we field a lot of questions about whether our patients and their families should get vaccinated. Read on to get the answers.

Q: I'm on chemotherapy. Should I get a flu vaccine?

A: Yes, but it's important to get the right one. All Cancer Center patients should receive a flu shot containing an inactivated influenza vaccine. People with cancer should not take the nasal vaccine FluMist because it is made with a live, weakened flu virus.

Q: Which vaccine should my family members receive?

A: In many cases, we recommend flu shots containing the inactivated virus for those who have close contact with our patients. This is because there is a small risk that people with weakened immune systems can catch the flu from someone who received the nasal vaccine, which contains a live form of the virus.

Q: I haven't heard anything about the H1N1 vaccine this year. Should I receive it?

A: The H1N1 strain is included in this year's standard flu shot. No separate vaccine is needed.


Thrive Issue: 
Fall, 2010