Patient Questions on the COVID-19 Vaccine: Nurses Weigh In

January 19, 2021
Brielle Benyon

We spoke with a group of oncology nurses about the questions that patients are asking regarding the COVID-19 vaccine.

Nurses across the nation are receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, and many of their patients may be next in line to get the shot. As America’s mass-vaccination efforts continue, patients with cancer have questions about the vaccine, and oncology nurses may be the trusted source that they are looking to.

Oncology Nursing News is taking a deep dive into what a COVID-19 vaccine means for nurses and patients alike in a content series titled, “I’m Vaccinated, Now What?” In this article, we heard from oncology nurses about the concerns that patients are having.

Will the vaccine make me sick?

Jayshree Shah, RN, APN-C, AOCNP, MSN, BSN, BS, CCRP, is a nurse practitioner at the John Theurer Cancer Center. She said that patients are asking “general questions” about the vaccine, and are mostly concerned with any adverse events that it might bring.

“I reassure them and say, ‘Would you rather have one day of fatigue or aches, versus potentially being in the [intensive care unit]?” Shah said. “So I bring them down to the level of understanding that the vaccine is an immune memory — kind of a check system – that works to get activated if your body gets exposed to COVID-19.”

Should I get the vaccine? When?

Additionally, patients should talk with their treatment teams about whether or not they are eligible to get the vaccine, and if so, when the best timing would be. Patients should not be receiving the vaccine during active treatment or when it is expected for patients to have a severely compromised immune system, experts say.

“The advice seems to be that as long as they’re not on active treatment and experiencing neutropenic conditions, they should be safe to get it and should get it because they’re at risk, just like anybody else that has a pre-existing condition,” said Emily Beard, RN, OCN, GBCN, program coordinator of breast cancer at the Northside Cancer Institute.

Is this an adverse event from the vaccine or my cancer treatment?

Body aches and fatigue can happen with the COVID-19 vaccine as well as numerous types of cancer treatment. Beard says that while there are no clear answers to distinguish if a patient’s malady is from one thing or another, it is crucial that — as always – they keep their care team up to date on any symptoms that they’re experiencing.

“We just have to stay in close contact with the team that’s treating the patients and encourage them to report any symptoms that they have,” Beard said. “So far, the vast majority of my colleagues and patients who I have spoken to haven’t had any adverse events [from the vaccine] beyond the expected arm tenderness or maybe a headache, which is manageable.”

More: COVID-19 Vaccine ‘Not a Quick Fix’ for Social Distancing Measures