What to Know About Polycythemia Vera and COVID-19

Polycythemia vera is a rare type of blood cancer in which the bone marrow makes too many blood cells, particularly red blood cells. The condition is most common in males over the age of 60. Having polycythemia vera increases the risk of blood clots and can have potentially fatal complications like stroke. 

Early statistics suggested that people with polycythemia vera were at a higher risk of dying from COVID-19, but more recent research suggests otherwise. However, it’s important to remember that research on the effects of COVID-19 and how it affects people with certain conditions is still being conducted.

Here's what you should know about polycythemia vera and COVID-19.

What to Know About COVID-19 and Polycythemia - Illustration by Michela Buttignol

Verywell / Michela Buttignol

Polycythemia Vera and COVID-19 Risk

There is no definitive research evidence showing that people with polycythemia vera are at an increased risk of getting COVID-19. However, people who are being treated for the condition at a clinic or hospital may wonder whether it’s safe for them to go to their regular phlebotomy appointments.

Experts recommend that people with polycythemia vera do not skip appointments if they require phlebotomy treatments to control the condition.

Some people might be able to transition to telehealth appointments if they are stable and if there’s a high rate of COVID infection in their community.

Complications of Polycythemia Vera and COVID-19

Research suggests that people with blood cancers may have an elevated risk of dying from COVID-19. The increased risk makes sense because those with cancer are likely to have compromised immune systems.

Experts do not have enough information to say for sure whether there is a link between polycythemia vera and increased COVID-19 mortality. It’s possible that people with polycythemia vera that has progressed to myelofibrosis may have a higher risk of COVID-19 complications. 

There are reports that people with COVID-19 have experienced blood clots. People with blood disorders, like polycythemia vera, are already at higher risk for blood clots. Therefore, having both conditions at the same time may further increase their risk. However, more research is needed to understand a possible link.

A person's risk for COVID-19 complications varies depending on many other factors including their age and whether they have other health conditions.

Polycythemia Vera Treatments and COVID-19

Experts say that people with polycythemia vera should keep up with their treatments—even if a person tests positive for COVID-19. Abruptly stopping treatments for polycythemia vera is more likely to cause adverse effects than it is to raise a person's risk of contracting COVID-19 or experiencing complications from the virus.

COVID Treatment and Drug Interactions

The only reason to stop polycythemia vera treatment is if a person gets COVID-19 and needs a treatment that would cause a drug interaction. If there’s any worry of drug interaction, such as with ruxolitinib, experts recommend lowering the dose rather than stopping the treatment abruptly.

How to Stay Safe

It may feel scary to continue going to treatment appointments and doctor’s visits throughout the pandemic. However, keep in mind that many hospitals and other health institutions are taking important precautions to keep staff and patients safe.

You can protect yourself by:

  • Frequently washing your hands
  • Wearing a face mask indoors 
  • Physically distancing from others
  • Staying up-to-date with COVID-19 primary series vaccines and boosters

A Word From Verywell

Emerging research suggests that people with polycythemia vera are not at a higher risk for COVID-19 infection or complications. It's also safe, and recommended, for them to get a COVID vaccine.

If you have concerns about your appointments or do not know how to fit a COVID vaccine into your treatment schedule, talk to your provider. They can explain what they are doing to keep staff and patients safe, or might allow you to use telehealth appointments.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed. As new research becomes available, we’ll update this article. For the latest on COVID-19, visit our
coronavirus news page.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is it safe to get the COVID-19 vaccine if you have polycythemia vera?

    Yes. Experts recommend getting the vaccine even if you have a condition such as polycythemia vera. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that anyone over the age of 12 get the vaccine, including people with cancer and compromised immune systems.

    Immune system health can vary among people with polycythemia vera, but having polycythemia vera does not mean that a person has an unhealthy immune system.

    However, it is important to note that there is still uncertainty about how the COVID vaccines affect people with blood disorders, including how effective it is.

  • Should a person delay treatment such as chemotherapy for polycythemia vera before getting their COVID-19 vaccine?

    Experts recommend delaying chemotherapy until at least two weeks after a person gets their second dose of the COVID vaccine to ensure that they get its full protective effects. However, this delay is not absolutely necessary.

    Your provider will let you know the best way for you to fit a COVID vaccination into your treatment schedule.

  • Can phlebotomy treatment impact vaccine safety?

    No. There is no evidence that getting a COVID-19 vaccine right after or just before phlebotomy treatment is unsafe.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cancer Connect. Ask the experts about COVID-19 and myeloproliferative neoplasms (MF-PV-ET).

  2. American Society of Hematology. COVID-19 and myeloproliferative neoplasms: Frequently asked questions.

  3. Buske C, Dreyling M, Alvarez-Larrán A, et al. Managing hematological cancer patients during the COVID-19 pandemic: an ESMO-EHA Interdisciplinary Expert Consensus. ESMO Open. 2022;7(2):100403. doi:10.1016/j.esmoop.2022.100403

  4. Vahdat S. A review of pathophysiological mechanism, diagnosis, and treatment of thrombosis risk associated with COVID-19 infection. Int J Cardiol Heart Vasc. 2022;41:101068. doi:10.1016/j.ijcha.2022.101068

  5. Barbui T, De Stefano V, Alvarez-Larran A, et al. Among classic myeloproliferative neoplasms, essential thrombocythemia is associated with the greatest risk of venous thromboembolism during COVID-19. Blood Cancer J. 2021;11(2):21. doi:10.1038/s41408-021-00417-3

  6. Samadizadeh S, Masoudi M, Rastegar M, Salimi V, Shahbaz MB, Tahamtan A. COVID-19: Why does disease severity vary among individuals? Respir Med. 2021;180:106356. doi:10.1016/j.rmed.2021.106356

  7. Barbui T, Vannucchi AM, Alvarez-Larran A, et al. High mortality rate in COVID-19 patients with myeloproliferative neoplasms after abrupt withdrawal of ruxolitinib. Leukemia. 2021;35(2):485-493. doi:10.1038/s41375-020-01107-y

By Steph Coelho
Steph Coelho is a freelance health and wellness writer and editor with nearly a decade of experience working on content related to health, wellness, mental health, chronic illness, fitness, sexual wellness, and health-related tech.She's written extensively about chronic conditions, telehealth, aging, CBD, and mental health. Her work has appeared in Insider, Healthline, WebMD, Greatist, Medical News Today, and more.