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Coronavirus vaccines explained

Now that the NHS is rolling out a coronavirus vaccine, there are lots of questions we all have about what it might mean for us.


What do we know about a coronavirus vaccine?

More than one vaccine has been approved for use in the UK. Each vaccine requires 2 doses to be fully effective.

If you've already received your first dose, it's likely your appointment for the second dose will be postponed for another few weeks. This is because the evidence shows that 1 dose of a vaccine gives significant protection in the short term, and the Government has decided to prioritise getting as many people as possible their first dose as quickly as they can. However, everyone will receive 2 doses within 12 weeks and benefit from the maximum protection of the vaccine.

The UK regulator and Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (the independent experts that advise Government on all vaccines) have assessed all approved vaccines to be safe and able to offer a ‘high’ level of protection against becoming severely unwell with coronavirus.

Things to think about

We're very happy you've come to us as a trusted source of information about the vaccine. But there's lots of misinformation out there, too. It's important to always think about the source of your information. We've got more about this in our FAQs section below.


Who's eligible for a coronavirus vaccine?

Coronavirus vaccines will be made available to all adults at some point. While we don’t have enough information yet to know exactly when that might be, we do know it’s going to require patience as not everyone’s going to be able to get vaccinated at the same time.

To make sure those most in need of a vaccine receive one as soon as possible, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has advised the Government to prioritise certain groups. Once these groups have been offered their vaccine, the JCVI will set out the priority order for the remaining adult population.

The initial priority groups are set out below, starting with those considered high priority:

  1. Older adults that are a resident in a care home and their care workers.
  2. Everyone aged 80+ and all health and social care workers.
  3. Everyone aged 75+.
  4. Everyone aged 70+ and all those considered clinically extremely vulnerable and have been shielding.
  5. Everyone aged 65+.
  6. Everyone aged 16-64 with an underlying health condition which puts them at higher risk of becoming seriously unwell.
  7. Everyone 60+.
  8. Everyone 55+.
  9. Everyone 50+.

Age is a major risk factor for coronavirus, so the oldest age groups and older people living in care homes are a top priority.

This priority list provides a framework. However, that’s not to say everyone single resident in a care home will receive a vaccine before any health workers receive theirs, for example. Due to factors such as transport, storage and vaccines that may require low temperatures, it might be this order might vary a bit in practice.

This guidance may change as more information becomes available on the individual vaccines and groups listed above.

Light at the end of the tunnel

The announcement of a coronavirus vaccine is great news and understandably everyone will want to know when they can get theirs. While vaccinations will start soon, we know it's going to take some time to roll out across the population. We need to be patient for a little longer.


How can I get a vaccine?

The NHS will contact you and invite you to book an appointment when it’s your turn. You may receive a phone call from your GP practice or local NHS service, but you may also be contacted by email, text message or by letter. So it’s useful to keep an eye out to make sure you receive the message (for example if you have a mobile phone but don’t typically use text messages). If your contact details have changed lately, now is a good time to make sure your GP practice has the most up to date information. 

You may receive invitations to multiple sites, in which case you can choose where to get your vaccine. If you receive a letter from the NHS to book online or over the phone and the only available locations are too far away or not possible to get to then you can keep trying to book as more options and appointments are being added. You can also wait to be contacted by your local GP or NHS service.

You’re able to book an appointment on behalf of someone else, but you’ll need their NHS number to do this, this will be included on letters received from the NHS.

Don’t worry if you haven’t been contacted yet, different areas are moving at different speeds and as more locations open more people will be contacted to book their appointment. As long as you’re registered with a GP and have up to date contact details you should receive an invitation in due course.

Vaccinations will take place at one of the following settings:

  • at a hospital
  • in the community – through GPs and pharmacists
  • in specially designated vaccination centres.

The number of vaccination sites is increasing all the time to help vaccinate as many people as possible.

If you can't travel to get a vaccine, you should still be contacted. The NHS is working on special arrangements for people who are housebound.


Is the vaccine safe?

Yes. While there will be different vaccines available, no one will receive a vaccine that hasn’t been properly approved and shown to be safe.

Each vaccine will have gone through trials to ensure the risk of serious side effects is low. However, as with other vaccines such as the flu vaccine, there are some common side effects. These could include:

  • A sore, 'heavy' arm where you had your injection.
  • Feeling tired.
  • A headache.
  • General achiness or mild flu-like symptoms. 

For a small proportion of people, their glands might swell. If this happens, you're advised to take paracetamol.

If you do experience any of these side effects, they're likely to last no longer than a week. But if they do get worse or you're concerned you should call NHS 111 and explain your symptoms and let them know you've had a vaccination. 

Any side effects you experience can also be reported to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency's (MHRA) Yellow Card Scheme

Serious reactions to vaccines are uncommon but can happen. The advice on allergies has been updated, it is now advised that anyone with a previous allergy to the ingredients of the vaccine should not receive it however those with other allergies such as food and other medicines are able to receive the vaccine. If you’re concerned, speak to your healthcare professional for further advice.


What don't we know about the vaccine yet?

While there’s plenty we do know about a vaccine, there are still things we don’t know for sure. This includes:

  • whether the vaccine prevents symptoms or also stops infections being transmitted from one person to another. As a result we will all need to continue to be careful even after we have received a vaccine
  • how long immunity lasts after you’ve had a vaccination and how often you might need to get vaccinated. Experts will monitor the vaccine and what happens next, but it may be some years before we get the answer.

If I missed an appointment or didn’t book one when invited, have I missed my chance?

There’s currently no time limit for getting vaccinated. If you’ve received a letter inviting you to book an appointment that means you’re eligible to have the vaccine because of the age group you are in, or clinical vulnerability to the virus. Follow the directions on your email, letter or text to make an appointment.

If you’ve previously been offered a vaccine by telephone from your GP and declined or were unable to attend the appointment, you can contact them to book a new appointment.


What will happen at my vaccine appointment?

When you attend your appointment, you’ll be asked:

  • How you’re feeling and if you have any symptoms that would stop you from being able to have the vaccine.
  • About your medical history.
  • If you have any questions.
  • To consent to having the vaccine.

You’ll need to bring:

  • A face covering unless you are exempt
  • Your booking reference number if your appointment is at a large vaccination centre
  • Proof of your occupation if you’re a health or care worker

What to expect:

  • All places offering vaccines will have social distancing and other measures in place to keep you safe.
  • Depending on which vaccine you receive, you may be asked to wait for 15 minutes after having the vaccination.
  • You’ll be given a leaflet about what to expect after your vaccination to take home with you.
  • You’ll be given a record card.
  • Your next appointment will be in the period up to 12 weeks after your first vaccination and in the same place as your first one.

Keep your record card safe and make sure you attend your next appointment. After receiving your first and second doses of the vaccine you must continue to follow government COVID-19 rules and guidance. It’s important to return for your second dose as this maximises long term immunity.

The NHS has provided some information about what to expect at your appointment, including what to bring to it.


I’m worried about vaccine scams, what should I look out for?

There have been some reports of vaccine scams where people are being asked for money for a vaccine. The coronavirus vaccine is free on the NHS and no NHS organisation will ask for financial details.

All letters inviting people to book into a vaccination centre will be personally addressed and contain your unique NHS number if you’re unsure about a web link there will also be a number provided that you can call to book.


How are vaccines getting to care home residents and care staff?

Since December vaccines have been provided directly to care homes, and local vaccinating teams are working closely with care home managers to support the consent process and gain an understanding of the practicalities.

The government is aiming for all care home residents and staff in England to have been offered the vaccine by the end of January.

You might still have questions about the vaccine. We've included answers below to some of the questions being asked the most. 


Coronavirus vaccine FAQs

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Last updated: Jan 14 2021

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