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Your Covid-19 questions answered

Can the Covid-19 vaccine cause throat cancer?

The health department encourages the public to report any adverse events after receiving the Covid-19 vaccine.
The health department encourages the public to report any adverse events after receiving the Covid-19 vaccine. 
Image: 123RF/MILKOS

The health department has again encouraged the public to report any adverse events after receiving the Covid-19 vaccine. 

This comes after a video clip of a man who appears to have throat cancer was spread on social media, saying it was caused by a Covid-19 jab. 

The video was shared by the leader of the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) Kenneth Meshoe, who said it occurred after the man received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center said some patients may suffer swelling or tenderness, including in the throat, after getting the Pfizer vaccine, but this usually goes away within 10 days.

It said such swelling is possible after any vaccine, as it could be a sign the body is making antibodies, as intended.

“It is also possible that this swelling will show up on imaging tests and could be mistaken for progression of certain cancers — primarily breast, head and neck, melanoma, and lymphoma. On imaging tests, the lymph node enlargement may be detected for a longer period. For these reasons, we recommend:

  • “If you develop this symptom after you’re vaccinated, you should speak to your doctor. Most of the time, they will recommend that you wait at least four weeks before getting further tests, to give time for the swelling to disappear.
  • “You should schedule your Covid-19 vaccination after any routine imaging. If you’ve already had the vaccine, then we recommend you wait six weeks for any routine breast screenings, including mammography and breast MRI.
  • “If you’ve had cancer, you should ask for your Covid-19 vaccine to be administered on the opposite side of your cancer diagnosis, if possible.
  • “If you have any discomfort from the swelling, you can use a warm compress. Acetaminophen or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may be taken to ease the discomfort.”

The Department of Health said it had noted the video and called on people who experience any adverse events after receiving the vaccine to immediately report it. 

“All vaccines and medicines have side effects, with the majority of Covid-19 vaccine side effects being minor and resolving within 2-3 days. While individuals respond differently to vaccination and side effects differ slightly among the vaccines, the most common side effects of the Covid-19 vaccines include headache, mild fever, chills, pain and/or redness at the injection site, fatigue, muscle pain, nausea and mild diarrhoea.”

It said serious adverse events “are very rarely caused by immunisation”.

“They are most often health events that would have happened regardless of whether a vaccine was received. Rare vaccine adverse events can be managed successfully if they are identified early.

“Uncommon, severe and serious adverse events should always be reported, so that they are fully investigated, including those that need medical attention or hospitalisation. It is important to understand if the vaccine was responsible for the event, or whether it happened coincidentally to vaccination, even those that have improved clinically or resolved spontaneously.”

It also slammed those sharing other people’s health conditions to paint a certain picture about the vaccine.

“Covid-19 vaccines are very safe and highly effective at preventing hospitalisation and death, therefore we discourage members of the public from using other people’s health conditions and life experiences to push their personal theories to justify the unjustifiable opposition to this life-saving intervention.”

Each province and district are allocated people responsible for investigating severe and serious adverse events after immunisation within 48 hours of them being identified or the health system being notified of them.

However, the department said there is no time limit for reporting an event.

“Rare vaccine adverse events can be managed successfully if they are identified early. Uncommon, severe and serious adverse events should always be reported so that they are fully investigated, including those that need medical attention or hospitalisation.”

Adverse events after immunisation may be reported using the Med Safety App or by completing a paper case report form.


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