(Updated Jan 21, 2021)

The recently authorized Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are an important milestone in preventing people from getting sick with COVID-19.

Florida Cancer Specialists (FCS) strongly recommends that our physicians, clinicians, team members and patients receive the COVID-19 vaccine as it becomes available. Combined with our continued use of masks, regular handwashing, physical distancing and avoiding large gatherings, the vaccine provides our best protection from COVID-19.

We understand that many people, and especially cancer patients, have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine, including how it works and if it’s safe. Our goal is to provide the facts to address many of these common questions.

How can I receive the COVID-19 vaccine?

Distribution of the vaccine is being directed by state governors.  Florida is currently vaccinating three priority groups: health care workers, long-term care residents and people age 65 or older.

FCS is making every effort to obtain supplies of the COVID-19 vaccine. We have joined with other community cancer care providers across the state and the U.S. to request that we receive supplies of the COVID-19 vaccines to provide to our patients and staff. If you wish to lend your voice to this effort,  please email Governor DeSantis at GovernorRon.Desantis@eog.myflorida.com and ask him to grant this approval.

At this time, residents who wish to receive the vaccine should call or visit their local health department websites for information on vaccination schedules and appointments.  Locate your county health department information here: http://www.floridahealth.gov/all-county-locations.html

Some Publix locations are providing the vaccine. For information, visit: https://www.publix.com/covid-vaccine/florida

FCS, in partnership with the Community Oncology Alliance (COA) and oncology care providers across the country, is urging state governors to provide us with priority approval and sufficient vaccine supply to administer to our patients with cancer and blood disorders. Read the full letter here.

Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe?

Yes. The COVID-19 vaccines that have been authorized for use have been carefully evaluated in clinical trials and proven to substantially minimize the risk of getting COVID-19.

Based on what we know about vaccines for other diseases and early data from clinical trials, experts believe that getting a COVID-19 vaccine may also prevent serious illness even if you do get COVID-19.

Is the new COVID-19 vaccine safe for cancer patients or others with compromised immune systems? 

The CDC is recommending that cancer patients be vaccinated, and we at FCS concur with this recommendation. Based on experience with other similar types of vaccines, no major side effects or unique side effects have been reported in immunocompromised patients.  Cancer patients and others who are immunocompromised may, however, have a lesser degree of immunity. 

In a recent interview published by the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s ASCO Post, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), said, “I think patients with cancer should be encouraged to get the vaccine. They will probably have a lesser degree of immunity. We don’t know now how much immunity we can induce with the vaccine. That is why we argue for healthy people to get vaccinated to develop herd immunity to protect those who are immunocompromised.”  Read the full interview here: ASCO Post

Talk with your doctor!
Your decisions about the COVID-19 vaccine are best made in consultation with your individual health care provider and care team.

Was development of the COVID-19 vaccine rushed?

All vaccines are rigorously tested and evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The COVID-19 vaccine trials have been through every stage of clinical trials that would normally take place. No stages of development were skipped, but they did occur simultaneously.

It is true that, in the past, vaccines have taken years to develop. Scientists now know a lot about vaccine strategy, thanks to decades of development and experience. These advancements, along with the large investments and additional resources provided from many countries, contributed to the record-breaking speed.

When vaccines are developed, independent experts review the data showing the vaccine is safe and effective; the FDA  and its long-standing committees then complete independent reviews and recommendations.

Development of a COVID-19 vaccine began in March 2020, and several were developed and approved for testing, including the recently authorized vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna. Others are in development. 

Safety monitoring of the COVID-19 vaccine is ongoing.  The CDC has an independent group of experts who review all safety data as it comes in and provide regular safety updates. If a safety issue is detected, immediate action will take place to determine if the issue is related to the COVID-19 vaccine and determine the best course of action.

How does the COVID-19 vaccine work?

Vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccine, prompt our bodies to recognize and protect us from viruses. Vaccines help to develop immunity, without us having to get the illness. 

Different types of vaccines work in different ways to offer protection, but with all types, the body is left with a supply of “memory” lymphocytes (blood cells) that will remember how to fight that virus in the future.  The COVID-19 vaccines do not use the live virus and will not cause COVID-19. 

Learn more here:  How COVID-19 Vaccines Work

Which vaccine is best?

The two vaccines currently authorized for use are both 90 – 95% effective. Each is administered as a series of two doses: Pfizer doses are three weeks apart; Moderna doses are four weeks apart.

They are not interchangeable, meaning after receiving your first dose you should receive the second dose of the same vaccine to complete the series.

What are the side effects?

Sometimes after vaccination, the process of building immunity can cause symptoms, such as fever. These symptoms are normal and are a sign that the body is building immunity.

Potential side effects are minimal for most people and should go away in a few days. General side effects can include pain, tenderness and swelling in the arm of the injection or flu-like symptoms, such as fatigue, headache, muscle pain, joint pain, chills, nausea, vomiting and fever.  

Talk with your doctor if you have had a severe allergic reaction after a previous vaccine or if you are allergic to any ingredients of this vaccine.  Severe reactions are isolated and further review is underway.

Do I have to pay for my vaccine?

The vaccines are being given within the U.S. at no cost. However, vaccination providers are allowed to charge an administrative fee for giving the shots.

Do people who have tested positive for COVID-19 need to be vaccinated?

The vaccine is recommended for all persons regardless of their history of COVID-19 infection.

After I receive the vaccine, can I stop wearing a mask?

While we welcome the protection that COVID-19 vaccines will provide, it is only one tool to protect ourselves and others from the coronavirus. It will be important for everyone to continue using all of the tools available to us to help stop the spread of the coronavirus  -- covering our mouth and nose with a mask, washing hands often, avoiding crowds and staying at least six feet away from others.

Demand for the vaccine is very high and it is important to note that, with limited supplies, it will be a long-term process to accommodate everyone who would like to receive the vaccine. In the interim, continued compliance with our FCS protocols and CDC guidance for wearing masks, handwashing and physical distancing remain our best protection.

We invite you to email your questions and input to: FCSCommunications@FLCancer.com. Thank you for your continued efforts and diligence.