COVID-19 update: What the latest guidelines mean for you

Illustration of Coronavirus COVID-19

Shorter isolation and quarantine periods do NOT apply to cancer patients; Third mRNA vaccine dose plus a booster now recommended for immunocompromised

In early January, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated their COVID guidance for the general public, reducing isolation (for asymptomatic or mildly ill people) and quarantine (for people exposed) periods from 10 days to five days — followed by continued masking for another five days. The revised recommendations seek to focus on the time period when a person is most infectious (the days immediately before and after symptoms appear) and balance social, economic and other well-being needs.

However, it’s important to note, the shorter isolation (if infected) and quarantine (if exposed) time periods do NOT apply to the following groups:

  • People who are immunocompromised, such as cancer patients
  • Children younger than age 2 and others who are unable to wear a mask
  • People with moderate or severe illness from COVID

These groups must still isolate and/or quarantine for 10 days (or longer) and should seek the advice of their personal healthcare provider.

Why cancer patients are an exception

Cancer and its treatment are hard on the body and specifically the immune system. At Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, our everyday precautions and protocols assume every patient and survivor is immunocompromised. Some patients and survivors are moderately to severely immunocompromised, including those receiving active treatment for tumors or cancers of the blood, those who had stem cell transplantation in the last two years, patients taking high-dose corticosteroids or other drugs that suppress the immune system, and others.

Having a weaker immune system means that if infected with COVID, you may be infectious for a longer period of time and be able to transmit the virus to others well beyond five days. It also means that your body may not mount a full, robust immune response to vaccination with the COVID vaccine.

Cancer patients benefit from extra vaccine doses

Even with full vaccination, cancer patients are experiencing more breakthrough infections and may be a greater risk for severe illness and complications. That’s why the CDC now recommends additional vaccine doses for moderately or severely immunocompromised people (such as those on active chemotherapy and transplant recipients). In addition to the first two primary doses of the mRNA vaccine (Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech) cancer patients are urged to get a third full dose of the mRNA vaccine at least 28 days after the second dose — plus a booster five months after completing their initial three doses — for a total of four shots.

For patients who initially received the J&J/Janssen vaccine, an mRNA booster is recommended eight weeks after the initial vaccine administration due to the risk of developing thrombocytopenia and thrombosis syndrome. In most situations, Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are preferred for cancer patients over the J&J/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine for primary and booster vaccination due to risk of this potential serious adverse effect.

If you have any questions about your risk level and if an additional dose or booster is appropriate for you, please contact your Roswell Park clinic or treatment provider.

COVID-19 Vaccine Information

Roswell Park is currently providing vaccines to our patients. Read more about our vaccine policies and read our list of frequently asked questions.

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How you can protect yourself

  • Get fully vaccinated and boosted.
  • Encourage your caregivers and all household contacts to get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible, regardless of whether they have already contracted COVID. Protecting those around you has a cocooning effect and reduces your risk.
  • Wear a mask anytime you’re around other people and unable to maintain 6 feet of physical distance.
  • Decline visits or social invitations to places or homes where others are unvaccinated.