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Covid Vaccine:
What you need to know

Frequently asked questions about the Covid-19 vaccine.

Written by Dr Adam Abbs. Last updated 18/02/2021.

Is there a vaccine for Covid-19 in the UK?

There are three Covid-19 vaccines approved for use in the UK. These vaccines have been confirmed as safe and effective at providing protection against the current strain of coronavirus. The NHS is currently offering these vaccines to those most at risk from coronavirus. In England, the vaccine is being offered in some hospitals and pharmacies, at local vaccination centres run by GPs and at larger, regional, vaccination centres. 

Who can get the vaccine?

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has recommended that the NHS offers these vaccines first to those at highest risk of catching the infection (such as healthcare and social care workers), and those who are likely to suffer serious complications if they catch the infection (such as the elderly or those with certain medical conditions. When more vaccines become available, they will then be offered to the wider population.

The NHS is currently offering Covid-19 vaccines to those most at risk of the virus.

Who should not get the vaccine?

The vaccine is safe for the vast majority of people. There are a very small number of people who are at risk of Covid-19 who cannot have the vaccine. These include:

  • People who have had allergies to ingredients of the vaccine.
  • People who have had an allergic reaction to the first dose (they should not receive the second dose).

There are other people who need to speak to their doctor before taking the vaccine. This includes people who have had allergies to previous vaccines or injectable medicines.

There are some people who need a longer period of observation (30 minutes) following receiving their vaccine. This includes people who have had severe allergic reactions to other medication (including antibiotics).

Is the vaccine safe for people with weakened immune systems?

Yes. The vaccines currently in use are safe for people who have medical problems or take medication, which affect the immune system. The vaccines do not contain Covid-19, so there is no risk of catching Covid-19 from them.

Will a vaccine protect me against Covid-19?

The vaccines are recommended by health officials and provide the best protection against the coronavirus disease. It may take a few weeks for your body to build up protection from the vaccine, but studies have shown the vaccine to be effective with little safety concerns. However, as with all medicines, no vaccine works 100% of the time in 100% of patients – some people may still get Covid-19 despite having the vaccine. Vaccines aim to protect most people who are at risk of the disease. In 2018 PHE estimated that the normal flu jab was on average only 15% effective.

Why should I get the vaccine?

Getting the Covid-19 vaccination as soon as you are offered one will protect you and those around you.

Can I pay for the vaccine privately or at a pharmacy?

The Covid-19 vaccines are free and are currently only available through the NHS to eligible groups. The government has shared guidance on the importance of vaccinating people who are most at risk and why a private Covid vaccine is not available.

Can I get the vaccine if I have tested positive?

If you are currently unwell and experiencing Covid-19 symptoms, it is advised that you do not receive the vaccine until four weeks after the date you tested positive.

Do I still need the vaccine if I have had Covid-19 before?

If you are advised to get the vaccine, you can still benefit, even if you have had Covid-19 before, even if you only suffered from mild symptoms. If you have recently tested positive for coronavirus – even if you have no symptoms – you should wait until 4 weeks after the date you were tested before getting the vaccine. You can still benefit from the vaccine, but you may wish to delay your vaccine by a few months to allow someone else to use it, as you may have some protection from your previous infection.

What are the different types of Covid-19 vaccine?

Several different types of potential vaccines for Covid-19 are in development and are all designed to teach the body’s immune system to safely recognise and destroy the Covid-19 virus.

The different types of Covid-19vaccine include:

  • mRNA vaccines, such as those made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. This is a new form of vaccine, where a harmless messenger (mRNA) is injected into the muscle of the arm. The muscle then reads the mRNA message and makes what is called a spike protein. This spike protein is like a flag that sits on the outside of a cell to identify it. The flag is then seen by the body’s immune system which produces specialised cells to destroy any cells with that flag. This flag is also displayed on Covid-19 cells, so if the body is exposed to Covid-19 in future, it is ready to fight it.
  • Vector vaccines, such as that made by Oxford AstraZeneca, also work by using the body’s own cells to make the spike protein (the flag that identifies the cell), but they use DNA, not RNA. DNA is too big to enter cells on its own, so a modified chimpanzee virus is used to carry the DNA into the cells. The chimpanzee virus cannot replicate in a human body, so it can’t make a human unwell. 
  • Recombinant vector vaccines, such as that made by Johnson and Johnson’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals, work with spike proteins too, but they use a deactivated adenovirus, like that which causes the common cold, to enter the body’s own cells. This vaccine hasn’t yet been approved for use in the UK.
  • Protein subunit vaccines, such as that made by Novavax, work by using an insect virus to introduce the spike protein into moth cells, which then produce large amounts of the spike protein (cell flags). These proteins are then added to an immune booster from soap bark trees. Injecting spike protein cells and immune boosters into the body results in the body creating immune cells that will fight the coronavirus if exposed to it in future.

The UK’s Covid-19 vaccination programme is well underway with the NHS utilising the three available vaccines - Oxford-AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna-mRNA-1273

Do Covid vaccines prevent infection and transmission?

It is currently unknown as to whether the vaccine will prevent infection and protect against onward transmission. We will know that only after several months of observing Covid-19 infections. Immunity against the virus following the vaccine persists for several months, but the full duration is not yet known.

How do I book a Covid-19 vaccine?

The NHS will let you know when it is your turn to have the vaccine - this will be in the form of a letter inviting you to book an appointment online. It is important not to contact the NHS for vaccination before then. You cannot buy a private Covid vaccine.

How do you administer the vaccine?

The vaccine involves an injection into the upper arm. Most require a second dose, which is given up to 12 weeks after the first dose.

Can I choose which vaccine I get?

No. You will not be given a choice of vaccine. Recommendations on which groups get the vaccine are made by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunology (JCVI).

Are both doses of the vaccine the same?

The second dose of the vaccine will be the same type as the first dose of the vaccine.

Can I get a private Covid vaccine?

Private coronavirus vaccinations are not available in the UK. The NHS is the only provider of Covid-19 vaccines. There are no plans to expand the NHS vaccination programme to the private sector at this time.

Is the Covid-19 vaccine suitable for vegans, vegetarians and Muslims?

There are no animal products or animal-derived products in the current Covid-19 vaccines. 

The British Islamic Medical Association confirms that there are no animal products in the current Covid vaccines, and whilst there is ethanol in the Astra-Zeneca vaccine, it is only as an excipient, and in very small volumes, less than is found naturally in a single banana.

The BBC has produced videos discussing the vaccines being halal.

Will the vaccine break my fast during Ramadan?

The British Islamic Muslim Association states that the current, injected, vaccines do not invalidate the fast, so you can receive them during Ramadan.

Can I have the vaccine if I am suffering from long-Covid?

Yes, long-Covid is believed to be the body’s response to a previous Covid-19 infection. As long as you don’t have current Covid-19 infection, you can safely have the vaccine.

Covid-19 vaccine efficacy

Are the Covid-19 vaccines safe?

The vaccines are reported to be safe and effective, giving you the best protection against the coronavirus disease. The vaccines approved for use in the UK have met strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness set out by the MHRA.

How do we know the vaccines are safe if they were approved so quickly?

There are two categories of investigations before a vaccine is rolled out to the general population: trials and approval by regulators.

The trials normally take years as after each stage the results are presented at conferences in order to secure funding before the next stage. At each stage, there is also extensive analysis to ensure that there is a need for the drug to be developed and marketed. Also, the trials can have difficulty recruiting volunteers and ensuring enough people take part in the trials. However, with the Covid-19 vaccines, there was a worldwide effort to provide all the necessary resources to ensure the trials could take place, so the administration time was significantly reduced. The trials themselves went ahead on very large scales.

The regulation of medications will normally take place after all the trials have been completed, which can be a slow process. But with the Covid-19 vaccinations, especially in the UK, the regulators started to analyse the data as soon as it was available; so that by the time all the trials were completed, most of the investigatory work had been completed. 

The Covid-19 vaccines being administered in the UK are confirmed to be safe with over 70% efficacy following a second dose of the vaccine.

How effective is the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine?

It is reported that the Oxford vaccine has a short-term efficacy of 73% after one dose, and longer-term protection of around 70% after two doses.

Does the Oxford vaccine work against the new variants?

Data on the Covid-19 variant first identified in Kent, England does not suggest that the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines will be less effective against it. There are some concerns that this is less effective against the South African variant.

How effective is the Pfizer vaccine?

According to data released by Pfizer in December 2020, the vaccine is 52% effective after the first dose. Following the second dose, the vaccine becomes 95% effective at preventing the disease after 7 days.

How effective is the Moderna vaccine?

The Moderna vaccine has been shown to have an efficacy of approximately 92% starting 14 days after the first dose. There are some concerns with all vaccines that they are less effective against the South African variant.

Does the Moderna vaccine work against the new variant?

Based on the evidence so far, the new strains of coronavirus including the UK/Kent/B.1.1.7 variant and the South African/501Y.V2 variant, does not alter the effectiveness of the Moderna mRNA vaccine. However, the monitoring, collection and analysis of data on new variants and their impact on the effectiveness of Covid-19 diagnostics, treatments and vaccines is ongoing.

How effective is the Novavax vaccine?

The Novavax vaccine has been shown to be 89% effective in large-scale UK trials and is around 86% effective at protecting against the new UK variant. The vaccine has been reported to work in a slightly different way to the Pfizer, Oxford/AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines - but does the same job of teaching the body's immune system to recognise and fight coronavirus. The vaccine is expected to be delivered in the second half of the year (2021) if approved for use by the MHRA. Reassuringly it is believed to be 60% effective against the South African variant.

How effective is the Janssen vaccine?

The single-dose vaccine has shown to be 66% effective against Covid-19. As it is a single-dose vaccine and doesn’t need to be frozen, it is hoped this will make it more accessible to countries with less well-developed healthcare systems. South Africa is the first country to use this, partly due to its efficacy against the South African variant, 85% in preventing severe disease; 57% against mild to moderate illness. Its efficacy against the UK variant appears to be good but is under review. 

Do the vaccines protect against Long-Covid?

Long-Covid is a subject of increasing debate. The vaccine can only help to reduce your risk of Covid-19. If you are infected with Covid-19 following being vaccinated, your risk of illness is reduced. As yet, we don’t know what effect that will have in the longer term.

Post-vaccination

What should I do after receiving the vaccine?

It is vital that you plan the second appointment for your second dose of the vaccine. You should have a record card which states that your next appointment should be between 3-12 weeks following your first vaccine.

Those who have received the vaccine in the UK will receive a record card and proof of immunisation is noted on their medical record.

What should I do if I feel unwell and my next appointment is due?

If you are unwell, it is best to wait until you have recovered to have your second vaccine. You should not attend a vaccine appointment if you are self-isolating, waiting for a Covid-19 test or unsure if you are fit and well.

Can I stop social distancing and wearing a mask once I have my vaccine?

No vaccines are 100% effective. Like any other vaccine, it is possible to have caught Covid-19 and not realise you have the virus until after your vaccination appointment. Therefore, it is still important to continue to follow national guidelines including social distancing and wearing a face-covering in places where it is hard to keep your distance from others.

Will I get symptoms after taking the vaccine?

Most side effects of the Covid-19 vaccine are mild and should not last longer than a week. However, you may experience:

  • a painful, heavy feeling and tenderness in the arm at the injection site (this tends to be worse around 1-2 days after the vaccine)
  • tiredness
  • headaches
  • feeling achy
  • feeling or being sick

If you have a high temperature you may have coronavirus or another infection. If you have a reaction to the vaccine, it usually happens in minutes. Medical staff giving the vaccine are trained to deal with allergic reactions and treat them immediately. You should not have the vaccine if you've ever had a serious allergic reaction to a previous vaccine, a previous dose of the same Covid-19 vaccine, some medicines, household products or cosmetics. If your symptoms get worse, you should call 111 for advice or refer to your GP.

Will the vaccine affect my pregnancy and ability to conceive in the future?

Currently, there is no evidence that states that the Covid-19 vaccine is unsafe if you're pregnant. For further information, please discuss this with your GP to ensure the benefits outweigh any potential risks.

Will the vaccine provide long-term protection? 

We are hoping that the Covid-19 vaccines will produce a strong, long-term, adaptive immune response. However, we will know more with time, as we see how the body maintains its immune defences and how the virus mutates.

Can I go back to normal activities after receiving the vaccine?

You should be able to resume activities that are normal for you as long as you feel well. If your arm is particularly sore, you may find heavy lifting difficult. If you feel unwell or very tired, you should rest and avoid operating machinery or driving.

Can I go back to work after receiving my vaccine?

You will need to continue to follow your workplace guidelines which include wearing the correct personal protection equipment and taking part in any screening programmes. However, it is expected that you should be able to work as long as you feel well. If your arm is particularly sore, you may find heavy lifting difficult, and if you happen to feel unwell or very tired, you should rest and avoid operating machinery or driving to and from work.

Following vaccinations, It is important to follow strict national guidelines by maintaining the use of face coverings in public areas, keeping a safe distance from others and disinfecting hands often.

Will I be able to travel after receiving the vaccine?

It is advised that individuals should follow national guidelines and refrain from non-essential travel, even after having received a Covid-19 vaccine.

Do I have to wear a mask after having the vaccine?

A vaccinated person may still be able to spread the virus, even if they are not showing symptoms. In order to stay in line with national guidelines, to protect yourself and those around you, face coverings must be worn in public where required. This guidance may change in future.

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