Covid-19 vaccine FAQs

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Page updated 29th September 2021

Four safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines have been approved by the medicines regulator for the UK. The Pfizer/BioNTech, AstraZeneca (Oxford), and Moderna vaccines are available across the UK, and the recently approved single-dose vaccine made by Janssen will be available later this year. 

The Covid-19 vaccine is free and available to everyone who will benefit, starting with those most at risk. Everybody in the priority groups - including clinically vulnerable people and health and social care workers - have been offered their first dose, and will be invited to have their second vaccine within eight to 12 weeks, depending where you live in the UK.

UPDATE: People with severely weakened immune systems will be offered a third Covid-19 vaccine dose from September. 

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has advised that people aged 12 and over who are severely immunosuppressed should be offered a third dose as part of their primary vaccination course. People who are immuno-suppressed may not have the full immune response to the vaccines and therefore may be less protected than the wider population. A third dose of the vaccine will be offered to help lift this group's immunity level and give them greater protection against the virus.

The offer of a third dose is separate to any potential booster programme, which is still being considered by the JCVI. 

An effective vaccine will be the best way to protect cancer patients and the most vulnerable from coronavirus and is the biggest breakthrough since the pandemic began. It is a huge step forward in our fight against coronavirus, potentially saving tens of thousands of lives. 

We answer some of the commonly asked questions about the coronavirus vaccines and others that are in development. 

Information around the Covid-19 vaccine is regularly being updated by experts, so we will regularly update our FAQs to ensure they are as up to date as possible. 

Coronavirus vaccine FAQs

*NEW* What is the National COVID Cancer Antibody Survey and who can take part?

What is the National COVID Cancer Antibody Survey?

The NHS has launched a national COVID Cancer Antibody Survey to understand how well cancer patients are protected by the antibodies generated after having the Covid-19 vaccines. The survey is looking for cancer patients in England to sign up now on the National COVID Cancer Survey website

There is emerging evidence that a small number of cancer patients may have lower levels of antibody response than the general population. Having lower levels of antibodies may mean some people with cancer are not as protected from Covid-19, but medical experts are not sure of this yet.  

The COVID Cancer Antibody Survey is one of the first surveys of its kind that will help us understand what protection people with cancer develop following Covid-19 infection and/or vaccination.

It will also help doctors to understand whether and how antibody levels are affected by different types of cancer and also cancer treatments. 

Who can take part?

The survey is open to people aged 18 or over living in England who have either been diagnosed with cancer in the last year or are currently receiving cancer treatment. 

What will signing up involve?

To sign up and take part in the survey, you will need to take the following steps:

  • Visit to sign up to the survey
  • Fill in a short form with your details
  • You will be automatically redirected through to the NHS Test & Trace antibody test booking page where you'll be able to book your free test
  • Participants will be sent a finger-prick blood test that looks for antibodies against Covid-19 in the blood. It will be sent in the post and comes with everything needed to complete and return the test. 

There are 10,000 places on this survey and the NHS expects to be recruiting participants for the next two to three months. 

How will the survey help me and other cancer patients?

By signing up for this survey, you can help doctors to understand what antibody levels mean for people with cancer. It will help them to provide the best treatment, care and support for patients. You will also be able to find out about your own antibody levels.  

Who can get a Covid-19 vaccine?

The NHS will offer the Covid-19 vaccine to everyone who will benefit. The vaccines are free and available to the following groups:

  • All those aged 18 and over in the UK
  • All 16 and 17-year-olds are being offered a first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine
  • All children aged 12 to 15 years are being offered a first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine through a school-based vaccination programme

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has advised that pregnant women should be offered the Covid-19 vaccine at the same time as the rest of the population, based on their stage and clinical risk group. The JCVI advise it is preferable to offer pregnant women the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines where possible, as strong data from the US shows pregnant women have received these vaccines without any safety concerns being raised. There is no evidence, however, to suggest that other Covid-19 vaccines are unsafe for pregnant women. 

What vaccine for Covid-19 is available right now?

The Pfizer/BioNTech, Oxford/AstraZeneca, and Moderna coronavirus vaccines are now available in the UK. Both vaccines have been shown to be safe and offer high levels of protection against the virus. Other vaccines are expected to follow throughout 2021.

The UK's medicines regulator approved a new single-dose Covid-19 vaccine made by Janssen in May 2021. The Janssen vaccine will be made available in all four nations later this year. 

Can people choose what vaccine they have?

No. Any vaccines that are available will have been approved because they pass the MHRA’s (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) tests on safety and efficacy, so please rest assured that whatever vaccine you are given will be right and safe for you.

When will I receive a Covid-19 vaccine?

All adults should have a chance to have a second dose by mid September. 

The NHS is following advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to prioritise offering the vaccine to those most at risk of the virus, and those who live or work closest to them. The same priority list is being followed by all four nations in the UK. 

Clinically extremely vulnerable people, which includes many cancer patients having treatment, have already been invited to receive their second dose. You will be offered your second dose within eight to 12 weeks of your first depending on where you live in the UK.

The NHS will always be ready for you if you didn’t take up your first offer of Covid-19 vaccination for whatever reason but have changed your mind. It is never too late to arrange an appointment.

Past updates to the vaccine advice 

Earlier this year, it was announced people who are not yet on the Clinically Extremely Vulnerable list but who about to start immunosuppressive treatments (such as PARP inhibitors), or those whose level of immunosuppression is about to increase, may be offered the vaccine alongside clinically extremely vulnerable people. 

Guidance in the government’s Green Book (a document with the latest information on vaccination procedures in the UK) says that where it's safe to do so, these patients can be recommended for the vaccine before treatment. Clinicians may advise their patients to get vaccinated, ideally at least two weeks before they start treatment. These decisions, however, will always be made on a case-by-case basis taking into account the patient’s health, chance of exposure to the virus, and the risk to their health from Covid-19. Clinically urgent cancer treatment should not be delayed by vaccination.

When will I get my second dose?

In May, the JCVI recommended that the interval between vaccine doses is reduced from 12 to eight weeks, where supplies allow, to help protect against the Delta (or B1.617.2) variant. 

In England, all adults are now eligible to get their second vaccine dose from eight weeks after their first dose. All those aged over 50 and the clinically extremely vulnerable will have been offered their second dose by Monday 19th July. 

The Welsh Government are currently working to offer a second dose to everyone in priority groups 1-9, which includes everyone over 50, all healthcare workers, social care workers, and clinically vulnerable groups. They are also continuing to work to offer earlier appointments for the people over 40, subject to supply, so they don’t have to wait longer than eight weeks between their first and second doses.

Who will get a third dose of the Covid-19 vaccine and when will it be given?

The NHS is following new JCVI advice to offer people who are severely immunosuppressed a third dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. According to the JCVI's advice, this third dose should be offered to anyone over the age of 12 who was severely immunosuppressed at the time of their first or second dose. This includes those who were receiving, or had received in the previous six months, immunosuppressive chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

Although the evidence is not huge, there is some indication that the immune response after two vaccine doses is weaker in people who are severely immunosuppressed than the rest of the population. The third dose will be given as a precautionary measure to help increase their immunity level. 

As a general guide, the third dose should be given eight weeks after the second dose. For many people, this will mean as soon as possible but there is some flexibility. If you are eligible, you will discuss the best time to receive the jab with your GP or specialist. They will aim to give you the extra dose at a time when you're more likely have a better immune response to the vaccine.  

Your hospital team or GP will contact you about the third dose, most likely by letter.

The third dose is different from from the booster dose (see our FAQ below for more information).

Who will be offered a booster vaccine?

Covid-19 booster jabs will be offered across the UK from mid-September, following new advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) about the booster programme. 

To maintain a level of protection against Covid-19 during the winter months, the JCVI is advising that booster vaccines be offered to those more at risk from serious disease, and who were vaccinated during Phase 1 of the vaccine programme (priority groups 1 to 9).

This includes:

  • those living in residential care homes for older adults
  • all adults aged 50 years or over
  • frontline health and social care workers
  • all those aged 16 to 49 years with underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk of severe COVID-19, and adult carers
  • adult household contacts of immunosuppressed individuals

The JCVI advises that the booster vaccine dose is offered no earlier than six months after completion of the primary vaccine course, in the same order as during Phase 1.

The new advice around booster vaccines will be followed by all four UK nations. 

This advice is different from, and does not replace, recent JCVI advice on a third primary dose for the severely immunosuppressed. The JCVI will review whether people in this group will need to have a further booster at a later date, following completion of their three-dose primary course.

Please speak to your GP or medical specialist if you have any questions about what this advice means for you.

Why are household contacts of immunosuppressed adults prioritised for the vaccine?

Adults living with someone who is immunosuppressed are being prioritised for the Covid-19 vaccine, following advice from the JCVI. This includes people aged 16 or over who live with patients having chemotherapy, radical radiotherapy, and protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors. 

People who are immunosuppressed have a weaker immune system, meaning they are less able to fight off infections and are more likely to have serious Covid symptoms. There is growing evidence that vaccinated individuals may have a lower chance of passing on the virus. Vaccinating household contacts will therefore help limit the spread of the virus and protect vulnerable adults.

If you are aged 16 or over and live with an adult who is immunosuppressed, you will be invited to book a vaccine appointment. If you live in Wales, you can complete a self-referral form on the NHS website

JCVI do not currently advise vaccinating household contacts who are children or household contacts of immunosuppressed children.

How will I know it's my turn to get a Covid-19 vaccine?

When it's your turn to have the Covid-19 vaccine, the NHS will invite you for an appointment by phone, text or letter. Once you have received your letter you can book your vaccination appointment online, or if you cannot access the online booking service, you can call 119. You will need your 10-digit NHS number. You can find this on the letter sent to you, as well as your prescriptions or through your GP online service.

Sometimes the NHS will contact you at short notice if a vaccination slot becomes available, because one of our major priorities is never to waste doses.

If you cannot go to one of the large vaccination centres, you can choose to have your vaccination at your GP surgery when it’s available there, or a pharmacy.

Understandably, many people will be eager to get vaccinated but the NHS is asking people not to contact the NHS for their vaccine before they're invited, then unless they are asked to do so. 

Where is the vaccine given?

The vaccine is being given in hospital hubs, GP surgeries, Local Vaccination Services, pharmacies, and in larger vaccination centres across the UK. More centres are opening all the time.

What do I need to bring with me to the vaccination centre?

If you are taking medication, please bring a list of these with you to the vaccination centre. You do not need to bring the medicines themselves. If the doctors and nurses running the clinic can’t be sure what medicines you are on, they may not be able to give you your vaccine.

If you are taking a blood thinner called 'warfarin' you will also be going for regular blood tests to monitor the thickness of your blood using a test called INR. The INR test result is a number (for example 2.5). Please make sure you know your latest INR reading and when that was last checked. 

If you don't know this, you can get if from your GP surgery. If you are taking warfarin but the NHS staff don't know your INR reading it can sometimes mean your vaccination cannot go ahead. The vaccination computers at the centre do not link back to your medical records so we can't look up your result on the day.

Is it safe to to use vaccination services?

Yes. In line with other NHS services, all services are required to ensure they take all necessary infection prevention and control measures such as social distancing, use of PPE and regular cleaning of chairs, table and other touchpoints. Patients are also asked to wear face coverings unless they are unable to.

How are the vaccine doses given?

The Covid-19 vaccine is given as an injection into your upper arm. It's given in two doses, up to 12 weeks apart. You will get a good level of protection from the first dose but will not get maximum protection until at least 7 to 14 days after your second dose of vaccine. 

Are there any side-effects?

Like all medicines, vaccines can cause side-effects. Most side-effects from the Covid-19 vaccine are mild and should not last longer than a week. You might experience some of the following:

  • a sore arm where the needle went in. This tends to be worst around one to two days after the vaccine
  • feel tired
  • feel achy or have mild flu like symptoms 
  • have a headache
  • feeling or being sick

You can take painkillers, such as paracetamol, to help you feel better. The NHS advises that if you have a high temperature you may have coronavirus or another infection, and that if your symptoms get worse or you are worried, call 111.

More information on possible side effects to Covid-19 vaccines can be found through the Coronavirus Yellow Card portal

How soon does the vaccine become effective after it's given?

Both the Pfizer and Oxford vaccines are highly effective and will give their full protection after the second dose. However, it's important to know protection from any vaccine takes time to build up. 

In general, the older you are the longer it takes for vaccine protection to build up. It will take about two weeks in younger people and three weeks in older people. The vaccine's full level of protection will only kick in after the second dose, which is why it’s also important that when you do get invited, you act on that and get yourself booked in as soon as possible. Even those who have received a vaccine still need to follow social distancing and other guidance. 

Is the vaccine effective in cancer patients?

There have been several research studies looking at how effective Covid-19 vaccines are in people who are immunocompromised, including cancer patients. The evidence so far has suggested that the vaccines may be slightly less effective in some people who are immunocompromised but, encouragingly, that they still give immunocompromised individuals a strong level of protection against coronavirus. 

We encourage all ovarian cancer patients to take up the vaccine when it is offered and advised by their oncologist. 

However, we know that more data is needed to tell us exactly how effective Covid-19 vaccines are for patients with different cancer types. The effectiveness of the vaccine will likely vary for people with cancer depending on their individual circumstances. Medical and scientific experts are still working hard to gather the robust evidence we need to properly understand how vaccine effectiveness changes depending on a patient's cancer type and their treatment. 

The NHS has launched the National COVID Cancer Antibody Survey to help understand how well the Covid-19 vaccine protects patients with different cancer types. The survey will look at the level of antibodies generated by patients after vaccination and/or infection, and how this affects their level of protection against Covid-19. 

The survey is open to people aged 18 or over living in England who have either been diagnosed with cancer in the last year or are currently receiving cancer treatment. Click here if you would like to find out more or enrol in the survey.

Should people who have already had Covid get vaccinated?

Yes, if you are part of a priority group for the Covid-19 vaccine identified by JCVI. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) have looked at this and decided that getting vaccinated is just as important for those who have already had Covid-19 as it is for those who haven’t.

I'm worried about the longer time between the first and second vaccines - will supplies of my vaccine type run out?

It is current UK policy that you will get the same type of vaccine for your first and second doses. The NHS keeps a very careful track of the type of vaccine you got the first time in the National Immunisation Management System (NIMS). When people are called back for their second dose the NIMS tells staff what vaccine to give. The NHS and PHE are managing stock levels very carefully so that the right vaccines are available locally for second doses.

Can Covid-19 vaccines be mixed and matched?

You may have seen some reports in the news about the UK mixing and maxing vaccines. The Government have said that in the rarest of circumstances, if a patient is unsure which vaccine they received for their first dose, have lost their vaccine card, there is no record on file, and the patient is unlikely to return again for their second dose, any available vaccine can be given for the second dose. However these are very rare circumstances and there are no current plans to mix these vaccines outside of these very rare circumstances.

The Government’s Vaccine Taskforce is continually reviewing its vaccination approach so that the UK is in the strongest position to protect people. The science is uncertain about how mixing vaccines could help boost the immune system's response, so trials and testing will continue to assess and test vaccine responses.

Does the Covid-19 vaccine work against the new variant of coronavirus?

There is currently no evidence to suggest that the Pfizer/BioNTech or Astra/Oxford vaccine would not protect people against the new variant (named VUI - 202012/01). The government are currently investing in further research here. State-of-the-art labs will be testing the effectiveness of existing and new vaccines against variants of concern.

How long will the vaccine protect me from the coronaviurs?

We don’t yet know how long people who are vaccinated will be protected from coronavirus or if anyone will need a booster. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is confident, however, that it will give people protection over a significant period of time. Once more data have been collected, we will have a much better idea of exactly how long the effects of the vaccine last.

Are the Covid-19 vaccines safe?

All our Covid-19 vaccines are safe and effective. Evidence shows they are reducing serious cases of Covid-19 and slowing transmission, and it is formally estimated they have already saved over 10,000 British lives. 

Every vaccine has to go through extensive safety checks and tests at each stage of its development, and this was no different for the Pfizer/BioNTech, Oxford/AstraZeneca or Moderna Covid-19 vaccines. They have met strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness set out by the UK's 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. So far, thousands of people have been given a COVID-19 vaccine and reports of serious side effects, such as allergic reactions, have been very rare.

You may have seen reports in the news about a possible link between the AstraZeneca (Oxford) vaccine and blood clots. The UK’s independent regulator, the MHRA, and the JCVI have both said that the benefits of the vaccine far outweigh the risks for people over the age of 30 and for those who are at-risk of serious illness if they caught Covid-19. Reports of blood clots have been extremely rare and they are unlikely to occur.

The government is following the JCVI's new advice that says, as a precaution, it is preferable for people aged 18 to 39 with no underlying health conditions to be offered an alternative to the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, if available and only if this does not cause substantial delays in being vaccinated. This does not mean JCVI advises against using AstraZeneca in people aged below 40, only that, where possible, it prefers something else. Everybody who has already had a first dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine should receive a second dose of the same jab, irrespective of age, except for the very small number of people who experienced blood clots with low platelet counts after their first vaccination.

You can read more about the approval of the Covid-19 vaccines on the government website

Can I catch Covid-19 from the vaccines?

You cannot catch Covid from the vaccines. But it is possible to have caught Covid and not realise you have the symptoms until after your vaccination appointment. 

If you have any of the symptoms of Covid, stay at home and arrange to have a test.

Will vaccinations be available across the UK?

Yes. Vaccination will be managed by the health services in each nation: NHS England and NHS Improvement, NHS Wales, NHS Scotland, and Health and Social Care Northern Ireland. The UK government is working closely with the Devolved Administrations to ensure the Covid-19 vaccine is well-coordinated and rolled out smoothly across the UK.

The vaccine will be available for free across the UK. The government procured vaccine doses for all parts of the country and is working with the devolved administrations to ensure vaccines are given out fairly across the UK.

Where can I find out more information about Covid-19 vaccines?

Do you have another question?

If you have a question that hasn’t been answered, please email us at - we may not know the answer straight away, but we will do our best to find out.

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