COVID-19 and people with weakened immune systems

The COVID-19 pandemic poses many challenges, including for people with weakened immune systems, their families/whānau and caregivers. Here is some information to help you through this time.

People who are immunocompromised (with weakened immune systems) are at higher risk of more serious COVID infection, which may require hospitalisation. This vulnerable group includes people with cancer, older adults, and people with other serious chronic medical conditions, eg, lung disease, diabetes or heart disease.

  • People with active or progressing cancer may be at higher risk than those whose cancer is in remission. Learn more: Information for those living with cancer during the Omicron outbreak.
  • If you are taking medicines for type 2 diabetes, ask your healthcare provider about a sick day plan, including advice on how to manage your diabetes medicines. Read more: sick day plan for people with type 2 diabetes.   
  • You are also at increased risk of severe infection if you are overweight, obese (having a body mass index [BMI] of 25 or higher) or smoke (now or in the past). 
 Key information
  • Be aware of your symptoms: Do not assume tiredness (fatigue), shortness of breath, and feeling sick (nausea) are related to your health condition. These could be symptoms of COVID. 
  • Get your booster: If you have a weakened immune system, and you are aged 18 years and older, it is recommended you receive a booster of the Pfizer vaccine or AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to help protect you. 
  • If you get COVID, contact your doctor immediately. It is important to be assessed as soon as possible, as there are medicines that can reduce the amount of virus in your body and help you get better faster. These medicines are only useful when given within 5 days of the start of your COVID-19 illness, so its important to contact your doctor as soon as possible. 

Avoid getting COVID-19

It is really important to follow advice to prevent COVID-19. Like the flu, COVID can be passed on from person to person. When an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks, they may create droplets containing the virus. Public health measures such as wearing a mask, social distancing and basic hygiene can significantly limit the spread of COVID-19.  Read more about stopping the spread of COVID-19.

If someone in your household is COVID positive

If someone in your household is COVID positive, you are at increased risk of getting COVID. It is really important to take extra precautions.

  • Avoid contact with others in your household as much as possible – keep a distance of 2 metres at all times.
  • Wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth. Read more about how to reduce the spread of infection in your home.
  • Be aware of your symptoms. Do not assume tiredness (fatigue), shortness of breath, and feeling sick (nausea) are related to your health condition. These could be symptoms of COVID. 

Get your COVID vaccine booster dose

People with weakened immune systems may not be fully protected against COVID with just two primary doses of the COVID vaccine (Pfizer or Astra Zeneca vaccine) and will need a booster dose. Some people with weakened immune systems may be advised to get an additional third primary dose of the vaccine before getting their booster dose.

  • Third primary doseIt is recommended for immunocompromised people to receive a third primary dose 8 weeks after completing the second COVID vaccine.
  • Booster dose: You should then have your booster dose 3 months after your third primary dose.

Learn more about the third primary dose and the booster dose.

What should I do if I get COVID-19?

Contact your healthcare provider

If you have had a positive test result, it is really important that you let your healthcare provider know. They have been given guidance on what should happen for you depending on your condition and the types of symptoms you are experiencing.

Monitor your symptoms

Most people who are vaccinated will have mild COVID symptoms for up to 2 weeks. Symptoms tend to appear around 2–5 days after you are infected but can take up to 14 days to show. Your healthcare team will advise you on how to recognise when you need help and who to contact. Read more about COVID-19 care at home.

If at any point you are worried about symptoms, don't hesitate to call your healthcare provider for advice. If it is an emergency call 111. 

Accessing health services during the pandemic

It's important to keep in contact with your healthcare team so they can decide on the best way for you to access health services during the pandemic. This may involve talking to your care team virtually (online or over the phone) and not physically going to the clinic. Read more about telehealth services.

If you are receiving chemotherapy, many clinics and infusion centres have made changes to allow you to come in safely for in-person visits as well as treatment. These might include screening for COVID symptoms ahead of your visit, proper spacing of waiting room and infusion chairs, spacing out appointments to limit the number of people in the waiting room at one time, requiring people to wear a mask and cleaning all surfaces frequently. It’s important to know who to call to reach your cancer care team so you can find out how to proceed.

Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team.