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Weak immune system? 3 questions to ask about COVID-19 shots

A woman sits on a couch and uses an inhaler.

If you have a weakened immune system, it's especially important to consider getting a COVID-19 vaccine. That's because being immunocompromised might raise your risk of severe illness from COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Your immune system may be weakened due to a health problem or treatment, such as:

  • Cancer.
  • Stem cells for cancer treatment.
  • A bone marrow transplant.
  • An organ transplant.
  • Genetic immune deficiencies.
  • HIV infection.

You might also be at risk if you take certain medicines, such as corticosteroids, that suppress the body's immune system. These are commonly used to treat conditions like asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and inflammatory bowel disease.

If you're deciding whether to get the vaccine, here are a few questions to discuss with your doctor.

Q. Is the vaccine safe for me?

A. CDC and other experts say people with weakened immune systems may choose to get a vaccine, if they are not allergic to its ingredients.

The vaccine studies did not include a lot of people with weakened immune systems. As a result, we don't have as much data about the safety of the vaccines specifically for them. But it's worth noting that COVID-19 vaccines do not contain the coronavirus. So they cannot give you COVID-19.

And some problems you might be concerned about—such as organ rejection after transplant surgery—have not happened often with other vaccines.

Q. Will the vaccine work for me?

A. Your immune system may not have as strong of a response to the vaccine. So it might be less effective for you than for people with healthy immune systems. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has OK’d a third booster dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for people with certain immune conditions. But even once you're fully vaccinated, your doctor may recommend that you keep following other safety advice during the pandemic, such as:

  • Wearing a face mask in public.
  • Staying 6 feet away from others.
  • Washing your hands often.
  • Staying home as much as you can.

Q. Should I stop or delay any of my treatments before I'm vaccinated?

A. Since some therapies may suppress the immune system, pausing them might help the vaccine work better. But this approach isn't right for everyone. Talk with your doctor about what's best for you.

Don't stop taking any medicines or treatments without talking to your doctor first, CDC advises. Doing so could harm your health.

The bottom line

If you have a weakened immune system, you should talk to your doctor about the COVID-19 vaccine to decide the best way for you to stay healthy.

You can learn more about the vaccines in our Coronavirus health topic center.

Reviewed 8/30/2021

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