Why Vaccines are Important for Cancer Patients

Cancer patients often have weak immune systems, making them more likely to get infections. Vaccines help protect them from getting sick. This guide explains which vaccines are recommended for adults with cancer and when they should get them.

Types of Vaccines

  • Live Vaccines: These contain a small amount of a live virus or bacteria that has been weakened. They work by causing a mild infection to build immunity but are usually not safe for people with weak immune systems, like cancer patients. Examples include the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and the varicella (chickenpox) vaccine.

    Non-Live Vaccines: These do not contain live viruses or bacteria and are safer for cancer patients. They include inactivated vaccines (like the flu shot), subunit vaccines (like the hepatitis B vaccine), toxoids (like the tetanus vaccine), and mRNA vaccines (like some COVID-19 vaccines).

Recommended Vaccines for Cancer Patients

  • Influenza (Flu) Vaccine: All cancer patients should get a flu shot every year to protect against the flu.
  •  COVID-19 Vaccine: All cancer patients should follow the latest guidelines for COVID-19 vaccination to protect against the coronavirus.
  •  Pneumococcal Vaccine: Helps protect against pneumonia and should be given as recommended by doctors.
  • DPT Vaccine: Protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough). Cancer patients should get a DTP shot once, followed by a Td booster every 10 years.
  • Hepatitis B Vaccine: Recommended for cancer patients aged 19-59 and for older adults with risk factors.
  • HPV Vaccine: Recommended for patients up to 26 years old and can be considered for those aged 27-45.
  • Recombinant Zoster Vaccine: Protects against shingles and is recommended for adults over 19.

Timing of Vaccinations

Before Cancer Treatment: It’s best to get vaccinated 2-4 weeks before starting cancer treatment to ensure the immune system can respond well.

During or After Treatment: Non-live vaccines can be given during or after chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or other cancer treatments.

Special Consideration

Travel:  Cancer patients traveling outside Australia should get additional vaccines as recommended for their destination.

Protecting Cancer Patients

Household Members and Close Contacts: Everyone living with or frequently visiting cancer patients should be up-to-date on their vaccinations to prevent spreading infections.


Kamboj M, Bohlke K, Baptiste DM et al; Vaccination of Adults With Cancer: ASCO Guideline. J Clin Oncol. 2024 May 10;42(14):1699-1721. doi: 10.1200/JCO.24.00032. Epub 2024 Mar 18. PMID: 38498792; PMCID: PMC11095883.