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Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine FAQs

Restrictions are starting to ease, but you must still remember: Hands. Face. Space. Fresh air. Check the current rules.

This information was last updated on 4 February 2021. It was correct at the time of publishing. Vaccination facts will be updated if and when guidance changes.

How you can help the NHS

  • Please don’t contact your GP practice or Community Pharmacy to seek a vaccine, the NHS will contact you
  • When you are invited, please be sure to attend your booked appointments.
  • Please attend your appointment on your own. If you need assistance, please bring only one person with you. If we have more people attending, it is difficult to maintain social distancing.
  • Even after having a Covid-19 vaccination, please continue to follow all the guidance to control the virus and save lives – that means staying at home as much as possible and following the ‘hands, face, space’ guidance when you are out.

We have outlined answers to some frequently asked questions below, as well as fact-checking some common myths about the vaccine,

Getting the vaccine

How will patients be invited for a vaccination?

When it is the right time people will receive an invitation to come forward. For most people this will be a letter or phone call, either from their GP or the national NHS. This letter will include all the information a person will need to book appointments. Some services are currently also phoning and texting patients to invite them in. 

We know lots of people will be eager to get protected but we would ask people not to contact the NHS to get an appointment until they are contacted.  The NHS is working hard to make sure those at greatest risk are offered the vaccine first. 

Some people who have been vaccinated by their GP may still get an invitation to a mass vaccination centre or a community pharmacy. This letter can be disregarded if you have already had your vaccine from you GP. This letter is not an invitation for a second dose of your vaccine and remember you can wait for an invitation from your GP if you would prefer to be vaccinated at a local designated hub rather than at a mass vaccination centre.

Why is the NHS vaccinating some groups before others?

Independent analysis suggests that one life is saved for every 20 vaccines given to care home residents. For other over-80s, 160 vaccines have to be given to save a life.

The numbers needed to vaccinate per life saved go up as we move down the priority groups. These figures come from actuarial analysis of the pandemic so far, and are completely independent. Getting our most vulnerable vaccinated as quickly as we can while transmission rates are high will undoubtedly save lives.

Why have I been invited to a vaccination centre outside my area? 

The NHS has opened a number of large-scale vaccination centres including one at the Centre for Life in Newcastle. Invitations to book an appointment are being sent to people in the relevant priority groups who have not yet been vaccinated and live up to 45 minutes’ drive from a centre.   

You are free to choose to accept this invitation, by following the instructions on the letter, or wait to be contacted by your local GP services for an invitation to a locally designated site.

Why do I have to wait for my vaccination?

The NHS is offering vaccinations to those at greatest risk from Covid-19 first, in line with recommendations from the Joint Committee for Vaccinations & Immunisations (JCVI).

The first groups to be offered vaccinations were care home residents and workers, frontline health and social care staff and people aged 80 and over. As more vaccine becomes available, appointments are being offered to a wider group of people in the priority groups. 

I work for the NHS / in social care, when will I receive the vaccination?

Vaccination of patient-facing health and social care workers will be co-ordinated through your employer. You will receive an invitation to attend for your vaccine as soon as possible and in line with national guidance on priority groups.

I am housebound, can I get the vaccine?

Your local NHS services will contact you directly to arrange an appointment but please be aware that we will vaccinate people in age order, i.e. starting with those aged 80 and over.

Can I get one privately?   

No. Vaccinations will only be available through the NHS for the moment. Anyone who claims to be able to provide you with a vaccine for a fee is likely to be committing a crime and should be reported to the Police 101 service and/or Local Trading Standards. 

I have been told to pay for a vaccine 

The vaccine is only available on the NHS for free to people in priority groups, and the NHS will contact you when it is your turn. Anyone offering a paid-for vaccine is committing a crime.

The NHS will never ask you to press a button on your keypad or send a text to confirm you want the vaccine, and never ask for payment or for your bank details.

If you receive a call you believe to be fraudulent, hang up. If you believe you have been the victim of fraud or identity theft you should report this directly to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040. Where the victim is vulnerable, and particularly if you are worried that someone has or might come to your house, report it to the Police online or by calling 101.

About the vaccines

What vaccines for Covid-19 are currently available?

The Pfizer/BioNTech, Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 and the COVID-19 Vaccine Moderna vaccines are now available. All vaccines have been shown to be safe and offer high levels of protection, and have been given regulatory approval by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

You can view the:

Can people pick which vaccine they want?

To ensure that we vaccinate as many people as soon as we are able to choice of vaccine is not given. Any vaccines that the NHS provides will have been approved because they pass the MHRA’s tests on safety and efficacy. People should be assured that whatever Covid-19 vaccine they get will be effective. 

A specific vaccine will only be selected where there is a clinical reason to do so related to severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis)

Is the vaccine safe?  

Yes. The NHS would not offer any Covid-19 vaccinations to the public until independent experts have signed off that it was safe to do so.

The vaccines approved for use in the UK have met strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness set out by the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Any coronavirus vaccine that is approved must go through all the clinical trials and safety checks all other licensed medicines go through. The MHRA follows international standards of safety.

Millions of people have been given a Covid-19 vaccine and reports of serious side effects, such as allergic reactions, have been very rare. No long-term complications have been reported.

A very small number of individuals have experienced a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) when vaccinated with Covid-19 vaccine. Following close surveillance of the vaccine roll-out, the MHRA has advised that individuals with a history of allergic reactions to food, an identified drug or vaccine, or an insect sting can receive any Covid-19 vaccine, as long as they are not known to be allergic to any ingredients of the vaccine.

Will the vaccines work with the new strains?

There is currently no evidence that the new strains 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.

Do the vaccines include any parts from foetal or animal origin?

There is no material of foetal or animal origin in either vaccine currently in use. All ingredients are published in the healthcare information on the MHRA’s website.

For the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine information is available in the regulatory approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

For the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine information is available in the regulatory approval of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.

Are there any side effects?  

Like all medicines, the vaccine can cause side effects. 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

Should people who have already had Covid get vaccinated?    

The MHRA have advised that getting vaccinated is just as important for those who have already had Covid-19. It is advised that if you have had Covid you need to wait four weeks before you can be vaccinated.

Will the Covid-19 vaccine protect me from flu?

No, the COVID-19 vaccine will not protect you against the flu.

Are there any people who shouldn’t have the vaccine?

People with history of a severe allergy to the ingredients of the vaccines should not be vaccinated.

If you have a history of anaphylaxis (severe allergy) with an unknown cause, you should discuss this when attending your vaccination.  

What about pregnancy and breastfeeding?

The MHRA has updated its guidance to say that pregnant women and those who are breastfeeding can have the vaccine. Pregnant women can discuss it with a clinician to ensure that the benefits outweigh any potential risks should they wish. Similarly, advice for women planning a pregnancy has also been updated and there is no need for women to delay pregnancy after having the vaccination.

I’m currently ill with Covid-19, can I get the vaccine?

People currently unwell and experiencing COVID-19 symptoms should not receive the vaccine until they have recovered. The guidance says this should be at least four weeks after the start of symptoms or from the date of a positive Covid-19 test.

Getting the second dose

Why have second doses of the vaccine been rescheduled?

The UK Chief Medical Officers have agreed a longer timeframe between first and second doses so that more people can get their first dose quickly, and because the evidence shows that one dose still offers a high level of protection. This decision will allow us to get the maximum benefit for the most people in the shortest possible time and will help save lives.

The latest evidence suggests the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine provides protection for most people for up to three months.

Getting both doses remains important so we would urge people to return for it at the right time which will be between 10 and 12 weeks from the first dose.

Will I be at greater risk if I don’t get a second dose after three weeks?

The science suggests that protection comes 10-14 days after the first dose. Trials show that at three weeks, the Pfizer vaccine is 89% effective and the Astra Zeneca vaccine is 73% effective.

In the Astra Zeneca vaccine trial, second doses were given after varying time periods, with no suggestion that a delayed second dose gave inferior protection. There is no immunological reason why protection should wane between 3 and 12 weeks. Scientists are watching very carefully for any evidence that protection reduces between 3 and 12 weeks, and none has been found.

Will I have less long-term protection if I receive the second dose after 12 weeks?

There is no reason to think that a second dose at 12 weeks will give inferior long term protection, and lots of science to suggest this may actually give better long term protection.

For most vaccines, the best time for a booster dose is well beyond three weeks after the primary dose. In fact, a second dose too close to the first dose often means there is a lesser immune response in the long run.

I’m in a vulnerable group. Can I get a second dose after three weeks?

There is no evidence that people in clinically vulnerable groups get any lesser protection from the first dose of vaccine than the general population. Giving people in these groups a second vaccine would delay the first dose for other vulnerable people. We do not have the option of making exceptions.

Where can I find out more?

The latest information is available on the NHS website. The BBC has also produced some helpful information about the vaccines in five South Asian languages.

Myth-busting

1. The vaccine was approved too quickly; it won't be safe.

Fact-check: Most vaccines take years to develop, test and approve for public use but, a global effort has meant scientists have been able to work at record speed. 

The NHS would not offer any Covid-19 vaccinations to the public until independent experts have signed off that it was safe to do so.   

The vaccines approved for use in the UK have met strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness set out by the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Any coronavirus vaccine that is approved must go through all the clinical trials and safety checks all other licensed medicines go through. The MHRA follows international standards of safety.

Millions of people have already been given a Covid-19 vaccine and reports of serious side effects, such as allergic reactions, have been very rare. No long-term complications have been reported.

2. The Government wants to force people to be vaccinated.

Fact-check: People are being asked to make up their own minds based on factual information not myths.

A number of vaccines against different diseases are already recommended to people working in jobs where they may be exposed to high-risk diseases.

This is to protect both the workers’ health and that of the patients and service users they come into contact with.

We know that Covid-19 is spreading within our communities and is not only a problem for care homes and hospitals.

3. The vaccine could give you Covid-19.

Fact-check: Some vaccines contain the germs that cause the disease they are immunising against but they have been killed or weakened to the point they don’t make you sick.

In the case of a coronavirus vaccine none that are in development contain a live coronavirus and therefore can’t give you a coronavirus infection. 

4. We don’t know what’s in these vaccines.

Fact-check:  All ingredients are published in the healthcare information on the MHRA’s website.

Despite theories circulated on social media, vaccines do not contain microchips or any form of tracking device. 

5. The vaccine contains pork.

Fact-check: There has been a lengthy debate about the safety of these vaccines and their suitability for the Muslim community. 

Council for Mosques has followed international debates, consulted with GPs, health professionals, and held discussions with local community leaders and Islamic Scholars. They have concluded that none of the three currently approved UK vaccines contain any animal fats, alcohol or egg by-products and therefore can be taken by Muslims.

6. We don't know the side effects so it could be really dangerous

Fact-check: Reports of serious side effects, such as allergic reactions, have been very rare.

The risk of a mild side effect such as a sore arm will not compare with the risk of death that Covid-19 poses.

Most reported side effects 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

7. People could suffer allergic reactions when they get the jab

Fact-check:  Allergies to vaccines are very rare. They are given safely to millions of people every year. The odds on having a severe anaphylactic reaction to a vaccine are about 1 in a million. You are more likely to be struck by lightning

A very small number of individuals have experienced anaphylaxis when vaccinated with Covid-19 vaccine. Following close surveillance of the vaccine roll-out, the MHRA has advised that individuals with a history of anaphylaxis to food, an identified drug or vaccine, or an insect sting can receive any Covid-19 vaccine, as long as they are not known to be allergic to any component of the vaccine. Most anaphylactic reactions occur shortly after vaccination.

Staff giving the vaccine are trained to deal with allergic reactions and treat them immediately.

8. The Covid Vaccine can affect fertility

Fact-check: The Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) have issued a joint statement to confirm there is no evidence to suggest that Covid-19 vaccines will affect fertility.

Dr. Edward Morris, president at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: “We want to reassure women that there is no evidence to suggest that Covid-19 vaccines will affect fertility. Claims of any effect of Covid-19 vaccination on fertility are speculative and not supported by any data.”

“There is​ ​no biologically plausible mechanism by which current vaccines would cause any impact on women’s fertility. Evidence has not been presented that women who have been vaccinated have gone on to have fertility problems.”

9. The vaccine is unsafe for me because I’m pregnant or breastfeeding.

Fact-check: The MHRA has updated its guidance to say that pregnant women and those who are breastfeeding can have the vaccine. Pregnant women can discuss it with a clinician to ensure that the benefits outweigh any potential risks should they wish. Similarly, advice for women planning a pregnancy has also been updated and there is no need for women to delay pregnancy after having the vaccination.

10. I already had COVID-19, so I won’t benefit from the vaccine.

Fact-check: We don’t yet know how long natural immunity to COVID-19 lasts. Right now, it seems that getting COVID-19 more than once is not common, but there are still many questions that remain unanswered. Experts say that, even if you’ve had COVID-19, it would still be appropriate for you to get the vaccine to make sure you’re protected. 

11. Since COVID-19’s survival rate is so high, I don’t need a vaccine.

Fact-check: It’s true that most people who get COVID-19 are able to recover. But it’s also true that some people develop severe complications. Millions of people around the world have died from COVID-19 – and that doesn’t account for people who survived but needed to be hospitalised. Because the disease can damage the lungs, heart and brain, it may also cause long-term health problems that experts are still working to understand.

12. These vaccines will alter my DNA.

Fact-check: The vaccines use mRNA to instruct our cells to make a piece of the coronavirus’s spike protein in order to spark an immune system response. Once the mRNA does that, our cells break it down and get rid of it. 

13. If you’ve had the vaccine you don’t need to wear a mask

Fact-check: Even if you are immunised against Covid-19, you could still pass the virus on to others.

We still don’t know how vaccinations affect onward transmission and until we do — and while many people remain unvaccinated — people are being urged to continue to follow social-distancing guidelines, wear masks and wash hands to prevent passing on the virus.