Your questions answered on Covid vaccines

The UK vaccination programme began in mid-December 2020.
Photo of the coronavirus

Updated 18 January 2021

What vaccines have been approved so far for use in the UK?

  • Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine: approved 2 December 2020, first jab given six days later
  • Oxford University and AstraZeneca vaccine: approved 30 December 2020, first jab given on 4 January 2021
  • Moderna vaccine: approved 8 January 2021, but deliveries not expected in UK until around April.

Why is it important to have a vaccine?

Having a vaccine can stop you from becoming critically ill with Covid and needing intensive care in hospital. It can also protect the whole population once many people have had the vaccine.

When will I be invited for my vaccine?

Surgeries across Reading launched their first vaccination clinics between mid-December 2020 and mid-January 2021, due to preparation time and delivery dates delivery dates outside of their control. Full details for each surgery can be found in our article here.

Doctors will contact you when it’s your turn – in the meantime, be patient and don’t call your surgery to ask for a date or this will tie up usual appointment phone lines.

Will I get the vaccination at my own surgery?

There are five vaccination sites so far in Reading covering the six primary care networks (groups of GP surgeries that work together). Most are surgery premises but two PCNs have set up a larger site in the grounds of Watlington House for patients at their 12 GP surgeries.

A mass vaccination site is also being considered for Reading (like those set up at racecourses, sports stadiums or conference venues in other parts of England) however this will take several weeks to set up.

How will I be invited for my vaccine?

Surgeries have been writing, texting or calling patients to the PCN-run clinics. Some surgeries have said they will make follow up phone calls if people don't book, especially to ensure vulnerable people don't miss their chance. In addition to this, the NHS has centrally sent out invitation letters asking priority patients to book online via the NHS website to attend one of the new mass vaccination centres. This has led to duplication and confusion as we have heard of Reading people who've been invited to book an appointment at sites more than an hour away.  Until a mass site is set up in Reading, don't feel you must attend mass sites outside of our area - just wait for the invitation from your GP surgery.

Who takes top priority in getting the vaccine?

The government is running a 'first wave' of priority patients, the top four categories of which it wants to vaccinate by mid-February 2021, because they make up four out of five Covid deaths. 

  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.

Have the vaccines been rushed through?

All vaccines must meet strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness before they can be approved for use in the UK by the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Do the vaccines contain animal products?

No, there are none in any of the three vaccines approved for use in the UK. Watch this You Tube video of an Imam in Oxford talking about why he's had the vaccine.

What logistics are involved in getting vaccines to surgeries?

GPs have been given only 24-48 hours notice of vaccines arriving in some cases. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine comes in batches of 975 that are delivered defrosted, from their initial -70 degrees Celsius storage, so they must be given to patients within three and a half days of arriving at vaccination sites.

The Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine can be delivered and stored in fridges at temperatures 2-8 degrees Celsius for up to six months unopened.

The Moderna vaccine needs to be stored at -20 degrees Celcius.

How are the vaccines given?

A registered professional such as a nurse, doctor or pharmacist must prepare and administer it (or oversee a non-registered, trained person doing it). They will inject the vaccine into the top of your arm. For both types of vaccine, a second dose is needed for full effects.

When will I get the second dose?

Initially, people were told they would get the second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, three weeks after the first dose, but guidance has now changed to extend this to up to 12 weeks afterwards.

The launch guidance for the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine says the second dose can be given 4-12 weeks after the first.

The MHRA has approved the 12-week gap because it has seen data showing that the first dose of both makes of vaccine gives enough partial protection to prevent serious illness and hospitilisation before you get the second dose.

However the MHRA has approved only a 28-day gap for the second dose of the Moderna vaccine.

Once I've had two doses, can I hug other people again?

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, England's deputy chief medical officer, has said while the vaccines reduce serious illness in individuals, there is not yet enough evidence to say if the vaccines will reduce transmission of Covid-19 in the general population. Scientists are looking into this and should have a better idea in the coming weeks. In the meantime, Prof Van-Tam says people should still socially distance, wash hands, wear face coverings and follow public health advice.

Which is the best vaccine of the three?

Speaking about the first two to be approved, the committee which advises the government on vaccines (JCVI), says both are effective and it has no preference on which vaccine is used for any of the priority patient groups. It says people who are invited for a vaccination should come forward regardless of which type their surgery is giving.

Clinical trials have also not yet directly tested the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford University/AstraZeneca against each other.

The committee has not yet made any statements about comparisons with Moderna.

How long will my vaccination take?

While the injection can be given very quickly, patients who get the Pfizer/BioNTech jab must wait on site for 15 minutes afterwards to check they do not experience a severe reaction. Updated guidance in early January says this observation period is now not needed for the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab, unless a clinician says there are specific reasons you have to stay.

Will I experience any side-effects?

Most side-effects of both makes of the vaccine are mild and short-term, and not everyone has them. They include a sore arm at the injection site, tiredness or a mild fever. Paracetamol can help.

Serious reactions to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine occurred in people with a history of severe allergies shortly after the UK launch but those people recovered.

Updated guidance now says people with a history of anaphylaxis (e.g. after food) can get either make of the vaccine, unless they have previously experienced a severe reaction to either of the vaccine's ingredients. 

If you do have an unexpected, immediate and severe reaction to a vaccination, clinicians would be on site to administer treatment for this.

Can I have the vaccine if I’ve already had Covid?

There is no evidence of any safety concerns in vaccinating people with a past COVID-19 infection, or with a COVID-19 antibody.  You're also unlikely to be harmed if you are vaccinated but test positive for Covid shortly afterwards. If you have just tested positive for Covid, your vaccine should be deferred for at least four weeks.

Can I have the vaccine if I'm pregnant or breastfeeding?

Initially pregnant women were not to have it, but updated guidance now says that pregnant and breastfeeding women can have any of the vaccines, if they and their doctor believe the benefits of having it outweigh any risks.

Can children get the vaccine?

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is for people aged over 16, while the Oxford University/AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines are for over-18s. However people under these ages could have the vaccine if their specialist agrees a serious health condition warrants it.

Is the vaccine mandatory?

No. You must give your consent before getting any vaccine.

How will housebound or care home residents get the vaccine?

Either from home visits organised by primary care networks or from district nurses working for the local NHS community health trust.

Can the Covid vaccine be given at the same time as the flu vaccine?

No - at least a seven-day gap is recommended between different vaccines.

Can I buy a Covid vaccine to get it quicker?

No - the government is only making it available for free on the NHS in the order of your clinical priority.

Will there be enough vaccines for the whole population?

The UK has ordered 357 million doses from seven different developers.

Information in this article is from the MHRAPublic Health England, government press briefings, GP websites and information shared with Healthwatch Reading from local NHS bodies.

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