Covid-19 vaccine FAQs

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Page updated 30th March 2021

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 around 31 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), some people who are planned to start cancer treatment, and those aged 70-74 are part of 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 is being rolled out in stages, with the NHS prioritising those most at risk of the virus in line with advice from the JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation).

The programme in England is now inviting all those aged over 50 years to book their vaccination, after people in the first four priority groups were offered a Covid vaccine were offered a vaccine by mid-February. Those who can now book an appointment includes:

  • people aged 16 years to 64 years with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious illness
  • people who receive a carer’s allowance, 
  • or those who are the sole or primary carer of an elderly or disabled person who is at increased risk of Covid-19 mortality and therefore clinically vulnerable. 

NHS staff continue to vaccinate people aged 60 to 63 and those who are clinically vulnerable against Covid who have not yet had their vaccination.

Vaccine priority groups

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

Vaccination guidance says that people who are planned to start immunosuppressive treatments, or those whose level of immunosuppression is about to increase, may be offered the vaccine alongside clinically extremely vulnerable people (in priority group four). Updates in the government’s Green Book (a document with the latest information on vaccination procedures in the UK) means that these patients can be recommended for Covid-19 vaccination before treatment (which would increase their risk of serious illness from Covid) where it’s considered safe to do so. 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. 

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

  1. Residents in a care home for older adults and their carers
  2. All those 80 years of age and over and frontline health and social care workers
  3. All those 75 years of age and over
  4. All those 70 years of age and over and clinically extremely vulnerable individuals
  5. All those 65 years of age and over
  6. All individuals aged 16 years to 64 years with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality 
  7. All those 60 years of age and over 
  8. All those 55 years of age and over 
  9. 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. Other vaccines are expected to follow throughout 2021.

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, GP-led services, Local Vaccination Services, pharmacy sites, and in larger vaccination centres across the UK. 

There is now a network of 50 large scale centres open across the country.  

More than 2,000 vaccination sites have been set up across the UK and hundreds more will be coming online in the coming weeks and months.

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

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 get your vaccine. The letter will include all the information you need, including your 10-digit 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.

Once you have your letter your can book your vaccination appointment online or if you cannot access the online booking service, you can call 119. Sometimes the NHS will call you at short notice if a vaccination slot becomes available. You will need your ten-digit NHS number, it will be on the letter sent to you. You can also find it on your prescriptions or through your GP online service

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

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. 

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 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.

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 I continue to social distance after I have been vaccinated?

Yes. It is very important to follow the same rules as everyone else, even after vaccination. These are to stay at home where possible, follow social distancing guidance, wash your hands regularly and wear a face mask. 

Really importantly, we do not yet know the impact of the vaccine on transmission of the virus. So even after you have had both doses of the vaccine you may still give Covid to someone else and the chains of transmission will then continue.

Do I need to shield after I've been vaccinated?

Clinically extremely vulnerable people in England are advised to follow shielding guidance until 31 March, even if they have been vaccinated against coronavirus. The latest shielding guidance advises everyone on the patient shielding list to stay at home as much as possible, except for exercise or to attend health appointments (including vaccination appointments).

Once shielding is no longer advised, there will be other precautionary advice to help clinically vulnerable people stay safe.

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.

Will I get my second dose within 12 weeks?

Yes. Everyone will still receive their second dose and this will be within 12 weeks of their first.

The four UK Chief Medical Officers agreed with the JCVI that at this stage of the pandemic prioritising the first doses of vaccine for as many people as possible on the priority list would protect the greatest number of at-risk people in the shortest possible time. The second dose completes the course and is important for longer term protection.

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
  • 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 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.

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). Further laboratory work is currently being undertaken to understand this.

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.

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

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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