COVID-19 Vaccinations Frequently Asked Questions
This is the biggest vaccination programme the NHS has ever undertaken.
The public have an important part to play in this incredible effort:
- wait to be invited for your vaccine – you will be contacted when it’s the right time to come forward so please do not seek a vaccine before then
- act on your invite and make sure you attend your appointments when you arrange them
- if you are over 80 and have not yet been invited for your first vaccine then now is the time to contact your GP
What vaccines for COVID-19 are currently available?
Both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines are now available. Both vaccines have been shown to be safe and offer high levels of protection, and have been given regulatory approval by the MHRA. The Government has in principle secured access to seven different vaccine candidates, across four different vaccine types, totalling over 357 million doses. This includes:
- 40 million doses of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine
- 100m doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.
- 7 million doses of the Moderna vaccine, which has also been approved by the MHRA.
But only two are available right now, and there are not huge stocks of either at the moment. So, we are prioritising the most vulnerable as set out by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
How does the COVID-19 vaccine work?
Most vaccines work by triggering an immune response from a weakened or inactive germ that causes the disease. The Covid vaccine works by giving our body a set of instructions to make a harmless “spike protein” which will create the antibodies and cells required to fight off coronavirus. As there is no whole or live virus involved, the vaccine cannot cause disease.
How effective is the COVID-19 vaccine?
The 1st dose of the COVID-19 vaccine should give you good protection from coronavirus. But you need to have the 2 doses of the vaccine to give you longer lasting protection.
There is a chance you might still get or spread coronavirus even if you have the vaccine.
This means it is important to:
- continue to follow social distancing guidance
- if you can, wear something that covers your nose and mouth in places where it's hard to stay away from other people
Read more about why vaccines are safe and important, including how they work and what they contain.
Protection against the new strain
There is no evidence currently that the new strain will be resistant to the vaccines we have, so we are continuing to vaccinate people as normal. Scientists are looking now in detail at the characteristics of the virus in relation to the vaccines. Viruses, such as the winter flu virus, often branch into different strains but these small variations rarely render vaccines ineffective.
Is the NHS confident the COVID-19 vaccines are safe?
Yes. The NHS will not offer any Covid-19 vaccinations to the public until independent experts have signed off that it is safe to do so. The MHRA, the official UK regulator, has said that all approved vaccines have good safety profiles and offer a high level of protection, and we have full confidence in their expert judgement and processes.
As with any medicine, vaccines are highly regulated products. There are checks at every stage in the development and manufacturing process, and continued monitoring once they have been authorised and are being used in the wider population.
The phase three study of the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine demonstrated a vaccine efficacy of 95%, with consistent efficacy across age, gender and ethnicity. The participants were White, Black or African American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian and Native American/Alaskan.
The safety data for the AstraZeneca vaccine from over 20,000 participants enrolled across four clinical trials in the UK and Brazil and South Africa has shown that there were no serious safety events related to the vaccine. Participants were from diverse racial and geographic groups who are healthy or have stable underlying medical conditions.
Most side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine are mild and should not last longer than a week, such as:
- a sore arm where the needle went in
- feeling tired
- a headache
- feeling achy
- feeling or being sick
You can take painkillers, such as paracetamol, if you need to.
If you have a high temperature you may have coronavirus or another infection.
If your symptoms get worse or you are worried, call 111.
Tell healthcare staff before you are vaccinated if you've ever had a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis).
You should not have the vaccine if you've ever had a serious allergic reaction to:
- a previous vaccine
- a previous dose of the same COVID-19 vaccine
- some medicines, household products or cosmetics
Serious allergic reactions are rare. If you do have a reaction to the vaccine, it usually happens in minutes. Staff giving the vaccine are trained to deal with allergic reactions and treat them immediately.
You can report any suspected side effect using the Coronavirus Yellow Card safety scheme.
Who is getting vaccinated now?
The Covid-19 vaccination programme is now underway in North East London providing vaccines for the most vulnerable in society.
Initially the NHS is providing vaccines to the key priority groups as identified by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.
We are now vaccinating people in priority groups 1 to 4:
- Residents in a care home for older adults and their carers
- All those 80 years of age and over and frontline health and social care workers
- All those aged 75 years of age and older
- All those 70 years of age and over and clinically extremely vulnerable individuals
The NHS is contacting people from these groups directly to invite them for their vaccine. Please wait to be invited and don’t contact us to seek a vaccine. If you are over 80 and have not yet been invited for your first vaccine then now is the time to contact your GP.
You also need to be registered with a GP surgery in England. You can register with a GP if you do not have one.
Advice if you're of childbearing age, pregnant or breastfeeding
There's no evidence the COVID-19 vaccine is unsafe if you're pregnant. But more evidence is needed before you can be routinely offered the vaccine.
The JCVI has updated its advice to recommend you may be able to have the vaccine if you're pregnant and:
- at high risk of getting coronavirus because of where you work
- have a health condition that means you're at high risk of serious complications of coronavirus
You can have the COVID-19 vaccine if you're breastfeeding.
Speak to a healthcare professional before you have the vaccination. They will discuss the benefits and risks of the COVID-19 vaccine with you.
You do not need to avoid pregnancy after vaccination. The vaccine cannot give you or your baby COVID-19.
How to get the COVID-19 vaccine
The NHS will let you know when it's your turn to have the vaccine. It's important not to contact the NHS for a vaccination before then.
Letters are being sent out every week – you might not get your letter straight away.
If you've been sent a letter you can book your vaccination appointments online:
How will the COVID-19 vaccine is be given?
The COVID-19 vaccine is given as an injection into your upper arm.
It's given as 2 doses. You will have the 2nd dose 3 to 12 weeks after having the 1st dose.
Given the high level of protection afforded by the first dose, models are clear that initially vaccinating a greater number of people with a single dose will prevent more deaths and hospitalisations than vaccinating a smaller number of people with two doses. This means that rapid delivery of the first dose is required to protect those most vulnerable. The full statement on the prioritisation and the data that supports this decision is available here.
Many people have had their second dose postponed to allow a greater number of people to have their first vaccination, which will maximise the short-term impact of the vaccination programme. This is in line with the guidance on priority groups issued by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which has been updated. This advises that given the high efficacy from the first dose of both Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines (detailed efficacy data available from the green book), and the UK Chief Medical Officers’ statement that delivery of the first dose to as many eligible individuals as possible should be initially prioritised over delivery of a second vaccine dose. This statement from the JCVI also explains why the first dose has been prioritised.
The second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine may be given between 3 to 12 weeks following the first dose.
The second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine may be given between 4 to 12 weeks following the first dose.
The second vaccine dose should be with the same vaccine as for the first dose. Switching between vaccines or missing the second dose is not advised as this may affect the duration of protection.
What is in the vaccines? Are they vegan/vegetarian friendly? Do they include any parts from foetal or animal origin?
The vaccines do not contain any meat derivatives or porcine products or material of foetal or animal origin. A detailed review of the vaccines and their ingredients have been provided by the MHRA and can be found at the following links:
The British Islamic Medical Association have produced a helpful guide for the Muslim community which can be found here.
More languages have been added to the range of COVID-19 vaccination materials
The following are now available in Albanian, Hindi, Polish, Romanian, Spanish, Tagalog and Turkish:
- COVID-19 vaccination: guide for older adults
- What to expect after your COVID-19 vaccination
- Why you are being asked to wait
- Women of childbearing age, currently pregnant or breastfeeding
- Guide for healthcare workers
All documents relative to the vaccination programme can be found below:
Sources for FAQs: