The COVID-19 vaccine is now available for those with chronic or high-risk health conditions. Learn who is now eligible, whether it is safe for your unique health condition(s), and more commonly asked questions about COVID-19 vaccination.

Coronavirus Updates | 4 months ago

COVID-19 Vaccines for those with Chronic Conditions: Your Questions Answered

The COVID-19 vaccine is available for those with chronic or high-risk health conditions. Learn whether it's safe for your unique health condition(s), and more commonly asked questions about COVID-19 vaccination.

Information current as of May 25, 2021

It’s normal to have questions about vaccinations, especially if you have a chronic or high-risk health condition. Learn more below about the COVID-19 vaccination and whether or not it’s right for those in the high-risk category.

Should I get the COVID-19 vaccine if I have a chronic condition?

Most experts agree that those with chronic conditions should receive a COVID-19 vaccination. It is especially important to protect yourself from COVID-19 if you are at high-risk for severe illness from the virus—and the COVID-19 vaccination is one added layer of protection. 

According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Resources, high-risk conditions include:

  • Asthma 
  • Cancer
  • Cerebrovascular disease or history of stroke
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Diabetes type 1 or 2
  • Chronic heart conditions
  • Hypertension or high blood pressure  
  • HIV and those in an immunocompromised state 
  • Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, including Down Syndrome
  • Liver disease, including hepatitis
  • Neurologic conditions
  • Pulmonary fibrosis
  • Overweight or obesity 
  • Pregnancy
  • Sickle cell disease (not including sickle cell trait) or thalassemia
  • Smoking (current or former, defined as having smoked at least 100 cigarettes in their lifetime)

Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe?

COVID-19 vaccines may be new, but the science behind it was years in the making. Scientists have been studying vaccines like the one created for COVID-19 long before the start of the pandemic. And while research and trials were expedited for the COVID-19 vaccine, no steps or processes were skipped. All three of the currently available COVID-19 vaccines – including Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson – have been authorized for public use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administrationand are recommended by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Is the COVID-19 vaccination safe for cancer patients, and how should it be timed in relation to cancer treatment?

Most experts agree that it is safe for people with cancer or a history of cancer to receive the vaccine. It is not a “live virus” vaccine, which means it does not contain any amount of the “live” coronavirus and cannot infect you with COVID-19.

However, whether or not the COVID-19 virus is right for you depends on many variables such as cancer type, current treatments, and immune system status. That’s why it’s important to have a conversation with your healthcare provider to discuss vaccination options and the best time to receive one in relation to treatments. 

Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine while pregnant?

During pregnancy, a women’s immune system is compromised and more vulnerable to infections and viruses it is exposed to. Research shows the same is true when it comes to COVID-19. If you are pregnant and get COVID-19, you have a greater chance of becoming very ill are considered a “high-risk” individual. 

Only a portion of COVID-19 vaccine types have been studied in pregnant women. For this reason, we don’t yet know how safe the vaccine is for pregnant women. However, research shows pregnant women who receive the COVID-19 vaccine may pass on some immunity to their babies. 

If you’re pregnant and interested in receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, discuss options with your OB/GYN or healthcare provider. 

Learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine while pregnant.

Should I expect to change my current medication or treatment plan after receiving the vaccine?

Never stop taking medications or alter your treatment plan without first discussing it with your care team. If you are interested in receiving a COVID-19 vaccine and have an upcoming surgery or procedure, reach out to your doctor first to discuss if it’s right for you. 

Those awaiting transplants or patients who have had a transplant more than three months ago, are recommended to get the vaccine. Consult your transplant team for questions and to let them know you have been vaccinated.   

For patients who have received a liver transplant and are within 12 weeks post-surgery, please discuss whether you are able to get the vaccine with your provider.  

Am I too sick to get it, and how will it impact my condition?

Your healthcare provider or care team will be able to best determine whether or not a vaccine is right for you based on your current health status. 

I’ve heard reports of side effects as a result of the vaccineWill they be more severe for me due to my current health condition?

While everyone’s experience may be different, COVID-19 side effects in those with fragile immune systems appear to be the same as those in healthy individuals. 

The most common side effect is pain, redness or swelling at the site of the shot. You may also have: 

  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Tiredness
  • Low fever

While we understand these effects may be an inconvenience, side effects should not be a cause of worry and symptoms should subside within a few days. 

Maintain social distancing measures during and after vaccination

While vaccination offers an added layer of protection against COVID-19, the best way to protect yourself is to be mindful about distancing yourself from others and lowering your risk of exposure in everyday life. Always remember to:

  • Wear a mask. When you come for your vaccination, please wear a mask. And even once you are vaccinated, you may NOT be fully protected. Talk to your healthcare provider about what is safe for you. Learn more about CDC recommendations for fully vaccinated people.
  • Don’t skip your appointment(s). Depending on the vaccine you receive, you may have one or two appointments scheduled. If your vaccine requires two shots, be sure to keep both appointments for the vaccine to be effective. 
  • Let us know if you can’t make it. If you need to cancel, please give advanced notice.
  • Be patient. Staff members at vaccination sites are working hard to schedule and vaccinate as many as possible, as quickly as possible. 

I am a transplant patient and have been vaccinated, now what?

Current approved vaccines continue to show excellent protection from COVID-19 infections. We encourage transplant patients and their families to get vaccinated. However, there is emerging evidence that transplant patients may not respond as strongly as the general population, and that all vaccinated patients may still contract COVID-19. Although the CDC has loosened restrictions for groups of vaccinated individuals, we still recommend masking and physical distancing particularly when in contact with non-household people. We encourage transplant patients’ families and friends to get vaccinated- thus protecting the transplant patient from possible exposure.

What about antibody testing? Should transplant patients get tested?

Currently we do not recommend antibody testing. Currently this testing is unable to measure specific degree of protection. Preliminary data shows that transplant patients may not show antibody, even after full vaccination.

There are many different tests that may or may not test for vaccine antibody. If you choose to obtain antibody testing, it is important to understand a negative test does not mean the vaccine did not work, and a positive test does not necessarily mean you are fully protected. While there is new information emerging every month, keep in contact with your transplant team for the most current recommendations.

Where can I go to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

To sign up for the vaccine or to learn more about vaccination events, eligibility, and prescreening, please visitAtriumHealth.org/COVID19Vaccine.

If your condition makes it difficult to stand in line to wait, you can visit a drive thru location or request a wheelchair at certain sites. Discuss options with your doctor before scheduling an appointment. 

National and state resources: