Covid-19 vaccine FAQs

Vaccine image.jpg

Page updated 22nd January 2020

Two safe and effective coronavirus vaccines (developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca) are now available in the UK, and a third (developed by Moderna) was approved in January. The NHS has started the phased roll out the Pfizer and Oxford vaccines, and almost 5 million people have received their first dose. The Covid-19 vaccine is free and available to everyone who will benefit, starting with those most at risk. Clinically extremely vulnerable people - including cancer patients - and all those aged 70-74 are the fourth priority group to get the vaccine. 

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

Who can get a Covid-19 vaccine?

The NHS is currently offering the COVID-19 vaccine to people most at risk from coronavirus, and it will be free and available to everyone who will benefit.

When will I receive a Covid-19 vaccine?

The vaccine will be rolled out to the population in stages, starting with those most at risk of the virus. There is a list of priority groups for Covid-19 vaccination to make sure those who need protecting against the virus most are vaccinated first. This includes care home residents, health and care staff, and the elderly.

Clinically extremely vulnerable people - which includes cancer patients - and all those aged 70-74 are the fourth priority group to get the vaccine. 

The full prioritisation list can be found on the government website and is as follows (in order of priority):

  • 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 75 years of age and over
  • All those 70 years of age and over and clinically extremely vulnerable individuals
  • All those 65 years of age and over. All individuals aged 16 years to 64 years with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality 
  • All those 60 years of age and over 
  • All those 55 years of age and over 
  • All those 50 years of age and over

What vaccine for Covid-19 is available right now?

The Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca 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. 

In January, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) approved a third vaccine, developed by Moderna, for mass use in the UK, but the government don't expect it to be available to the NHS until Spring 2021. 

Where is the vaccine given?

The vaccine is being given in hospital hubs, hundreds of local vaccination sites run by GPs and other health providers in villages, towns and cities in every part of the country, and in larger vaccination centres. 

Seven of these large-scale centres have already been set up in:

  • Robertson House, Stevenage
  • Excel Centre (London Nightingale)
  • Centre for Life, Newcastle
  • Etihad Tennis Centre, Manchester
  • Epson Racecourse
  • Ashton Gate Stadium
  • Millennium Point, Birmingham

More centres and vaccination sites will be opening in the weeks and months ahead.

Pharmacies are also starting to roll out Covid-19 vaccines. The first group of pharmacies started vaccinations in mid-January and hundreds more pharmacy vaccination sites are planned to be set up by the end of the month.  

How will patients be invited for a vaccination?

When it is the right time, you will most likely receive a letter - either from your GP or the national booking system - inviting you to be vaccinated. The letter will include all the information you need, including your NHS number.

Understandably lots of people will be eager to get protected but the NHS is asking people not to contact the NHS to get an appointment until they receive their letter.

People invited to make an appointment through the new national booking service will be given a choice between a vaccination centre or a pharmacy service.

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. 

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. 

Full protection kicks in about a week or 10 days 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. 

The Department for Health and Social Care now advise a longer timeframe between the first and second doses so that more people can have their first dose quickly, and because evidence shows that one dose still gives a high level of protection after two weeks. The two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine will be scheduled up to 12 weeks apart.

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.

Are there any 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 1-2 days after the vaccine
  • feel tired
  • feel achy or have mild flu like symptoms 
  • have a headache

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 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.

Can people choose what vaccine they have?

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.

Can Covid-19 vaccines be mixed and matched if more are approved?

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.

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.

Is the Covid-19 vaccine safe?

Every vaccine has to go through extensive safety checks and tests at each stage of its development, and this was no different for either the Pfizer/BioNTech or Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines. They 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.

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

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.

Government guidance for patients and information on the coronavirus is updated regularly. Sign up here to be kept up to date with the latest government advice, information and advice from experts, and tips on your wellbeing during this uncertain time.