Page updated on 31st March 2022
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. Booster jabs will be offered to all adults across the UK to help maintain people's level of protection against Covid-19, starting with older age groups and those most at risk.
People aged 12 and over who were severely immunosuppressed at the time of their first two vaccine doses are being offered a third as part of their primary vaccination course. This is because they may not have had the full immune response to the first two doses and are less protected against Covid-19 than the wider population. The third jab will help top-up their immunity levels and give them greater protection against the virus. People in this group will be offered their first booster (their fourth dose) at least three months after their third primary dose.
The NHS has also started inviting immunosuppressed individuals, care home residents, adults over 75 years old to get a Spring booster, in line with new advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (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. We keep our FAQs as up-to-date as possible with the latest news, information and expert advice about the vaccine programme.
Coronavirus vaccine FAQs
- 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, who can get two doses 12 weeks apart and a booster
- All children aged 12 to 15 years olds, who can get two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine
- Children aged 5-11 will be offered two low doses of the Covid-19 vaccine in order to protect the very small number of children who become seriously ill with Covid-19
- Children aged 5 to 11 who have a health condition that puts you at higher risk from Covid-19 or who lives with someone (of any age) who is immunosuppressed living. This group is eligible for two doses
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. Recent data published by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) adds to the existing international evidence, which has not identified any safety concerns of vaccinating women during pregnancy.
- 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 get a first and second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine?
All adults in the UK can book their first and second doses of the Covid-19 vaccine. The NHS is encouraging anyone who has not had a Covid-19 jab to come forward as vaccinated people are far less likely to get Covid-19 with symptoms, become seriously ill, or to die from it.
- Who will get a third primary dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, and when?
Who will be offered a third dose of the Covid-19 vaccine?
The NHS is offering a third dose of the Covid-19 vaccine to people who are severely immunosuppressed as part of their primary Covid-19 vaccine schedule. 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 people who have or had:
- A weakened immune system due to a treatment - such as immunosuppressive chemotherapy or radiotherapy
- An organ or bone marrow transplant
- A condition that means you have a very high risk of getting infections
- A condition or treatment your specialist advises makes you eligible for a third dose
There is evidence that people who are severely immunosuppressed have a weaker immune response to, and are less protected by, the first two doses of the vaccine than the general population. The third dose will be given as a precautionary measure to help increase their immunity level.
When will people be given the third dose?
As a general guide, the third dose should be given at least eight weeks after the second dose. For many people, this will mean as soon as possible. Your GP or specialist may suggest a different time depending on if you have any ongoing or planned treatment that affects your immune system. They will aim to give you the third dose at a time when you're more likely have a better immune response to the vaccine.
How can you get the third dose?
If you're eligible, your hospital team or GP will contact you to let you know you can get a third dose. You may also get a letter from the NHS advising that you may be eligible and to discuss this with your doctor.
Your doctor will discuss with you how you can get your vaccine. You'll usually get vaccinated at your local hospital or a local NHS service such as a GP surgery.
In England, all eligible adults can book their third dose or booster (4th dose) using the online NHS booking system. You can also go to a walk-in vaccination site without an appointment for the third dose. You can find your local coronavirus walk-in site here.
When you go to get your third dose, you will need to bring one of the following items to show you're eligible:
- a letter from your GP or hospital specialist inviting you for a 3rd dose or booster (4th dose)
- a hospital letter that describes the condition or treatment that caused you to have a severely weakened immune system at the time of your 1st or 2nd dose
- a prescription or a medicine box with your name and the date showing when the medicine was prescribed – this must show that you had a severely weakened immune system at the time of your 1st or 2nd dose
Please note that the third dose is different from from the booster dose (see our FAQ below for more information).
- Who will be offered a Covid-19 booster vaccine?
A booster jab is an extra dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, which is being given to help maintain people's level of protection against Covid-19.
You can get a booster dose if you completed your primary course three months ago and you are:
- aged 16 to 74
- aged 75+ or you live in a care home for older adults
- aged 12+ and you are, or have been, immunosuppressed
- aged 12-15 and with a health condition that puts you at higher risk from Covid-19, or you are a household contact of someone who is immunosuppressed
Booster vaccines will be offered in order of descending age groups, with priority given to older adults and those in a Covid-19 at-risk group.
Severely immunosuppressed individuals who have received their third primary dose can get a booster dose (a fourth dose) at least three months after their third jab.
Please note that the advice regarding the booster vaccine is different from, and does not replace, JCVI advice on a third primary dose for the severely immunosuppressed.
Please speak to your GP or medical specialist if you have any questions about what this advice means for you.
- Who will be offered a Spring booster?
The NHS has started inviting people who are immunosuppressed, adults over 75 years old, care home residents to get their Spring booster, in line with new advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). If you have a weakened immune system due to cancer or cancer treatment (such as chemotherapy), the NHS will invite you for your Spring booster which you can then book online.
JCVI’s advice is that people should wait until around six months since their last dose for maximum effectiveness. The NHS began inviting people on 21st March and will offer a top-up dose to all who are eligible during Spring and early Summer before the end of June.
- 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, and how can I book an appointment?
When it's your turn to have the Covid-19 vaccine, the NHS will invite you for an appointment by phone, text or letter. There are different ways to book an appointment depending on where you live in the UK.
- Use the National Booking Service or call 119 to book your first, second, third or booster doses
- Visit your local walk-in site (using the NHS online walk-in finder) for a first, second, third or booster dose without an appointment
- Your hospital team or GP will contact you to let you know if you're eligible for a third primary dose or a booster. You may also get a letter from the NHS advising that you may be eligible and to discuss this with your doctor. You will discuss how you can get your vaccine with your doctor
- Please check your local health boards to find out how you can book your first, second and booster Covid-19 vaccine doses. You can find the contact details for each health board here
- If you're eligible, you will received an appointment for a booster vaccine when it is your turn. You will not need to contact your health board
- Use the online self-registration portal to register for a first dose of your coronavirus vaccination
- Use the online booking system to book a booster
- Vaccination drop-in clinics are also available for people who need a first or second Covid-19 vaccine dose. You may also be able to attend a drop-in clinic for your coronavirus booster dose. Find your nearest drop-in on the NHS Inform website here
- If you're eligible for a third primary dose, NHS Scotland will contact you to arrange your appointment. If you're 12 years or over and have not received an appointment and think you’ve been missed, contact your clinician or GP to discuss whether you should get a third primary dose
- Call the Scottish Covid Vaccination Helpline on 0800 030 8013 if you need help booking an appointment
- Health and Social Care (HSC) Trust vaccination hubs and participating community pharmacies across Northern Ireland are providing first, second and booster doses
- For some, mostly those aged 75 and over, a spring booster will be available through your GP or community pharmacy in April and May
- If you're housebound, you should contact your GP and they will liaise with a Trust to arrange a visit from a district nurse
- Health Trust vaccination hubs are still open for walk-in boosters for anyone aged 16 and over who is at least three months from their second vaccine dose. The latest details of vaccination hub locations and opening times are available on the Health Trust websites at the links on this page
- Use the online booking platform to book a first, second, booster or third primary vaccine dose
- Severely immunosuppressed people will be invited for a third primary dose by their Trust clinician or GP
- 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 clinic?
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.
If you're eligible for a third primary dose, you should have received a letter from a GP or hospital specialist, inviting you to have your third dose. You must bring this letter with you to your appointment.
- 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.
- 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?
Vaccines are still the best way to protect people against Covid-19. Data from the UK Health Security Agency shows a booster vaccine can help top up protection against symptomatic infection from the Omicron variant.
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org - we may not know the answer straight away, but we will do our best to find out.
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