What to Know About Polycythemia Vera and COVID-19

Polycythemia vera is a blood disorder that causes a person's blood to thicken because there are too many red blood cells. The condition is most common in males over 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.

Illustration of red blood cells.

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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 have the condition who are getting treatment 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 people with cancer are likely to have compromised immune systems.

Current studies have found no specific link between polycythemia vera and an increased risk of death from COVID-19. 

Experts do not have enough information to say for sure that there is or is not 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. 

What Research Shows

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, and having COVID-19 may further increase their risk. However, more research is needed to understand a possible link.

One 2020 case study discussed an older woman with COVID-19 who experienced blood clots and bleeding. While COVID-19 may increase the risk of bleeding and clotting in people with polycythemia vera, more research is needed.

Another small study of 162 patients suggested that people with polycythemia vera might have a higher risk of clotting; however, the findings of the study are limited by its small sample size.

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. 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.

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.

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

The CDC recently updated its guidelines with recommendations for people who have been fully vaccinated. Depending on state laws, people who are fully vaccinated can stop wearing masks and physically distancing in some parts of the United States.

Check your state's guidelines to find out what is recommended where you live for people who are fully vaccinated.

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.

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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.
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