Frequently asked questions about the vaccine
Is the NHS confident the vaccines are safe?
Yes. The NHS will not offer any COVID-19 vaccinations to the public until independent experts have signed off that it is safe to do so.
The MHRA, the official UK regulator, have said that both of these vaccines have good safety profiles and offer a high level of protection, and we have full confidence in their expert judgement and processes. As with any medicine, vaccines are highly regulated products.
There are checks at every stage in the development and manufacturing process, and continued monitoring once it has been authorised and is being used in the wider population.
Can any member of the public be vaccinated? Can they just walk in to a service?
People will be offered vaccinations in line with recommendations from the independent JCVI. The NHS will contact people when it is their turn. People will need an appointment to get their vaccine; most people will be invited by letter from their GP practice or the national NHS vaccination programme.
How effective are the vaccines?
Both vaccines have been shown to be highly effective at stopping people from becoming seriously ill from Covid-19.
Like all medicines, no vaccine is completely effective – some people may still get COVID-19 despite having a vaccination, but the symptoms should be a lot less severe.
Having the vaccine prevents you becoming seriously ill from Covid-19 but you may still be able to spread it to others so it is very important to keep following the guidance – in particular, wearing a mask, washing your hands and keeping two metres apart.
How does the vaccine work?
Like all vaccines, the Covid-19 vaccines teach your body to fight the virus.
The vaccines work by making a protein from the virus that is important for creating protection. The protein stimulates the immune system to make antibodies and cells to fight the infection.
The components of the vaccine leave the body within a few days. The vaccines will not alter your DNA or genetic material.
Why have you extended the time between the first and second dose?
The UK Chief Medical Officers have agreed a longer timeframe between first and second doses so that more people can get their first dose quickly, and because the evidence shows that one dose still offers a high level of protection. This decision will allow us to get the maximum benefit for the most people in the shortest possible time and will help save lives.
We recognise for some people a longer wait might be worrying, and clinicians have the discretion to vaccinate people sooner if they think this is needed. Getting both doses remains important so we would urge people to return for it at the right time.
What are the vaccine ingredients?
How were vaccines developed so quickly?
The main reason that the vaccines were developed so quickly is that finding a vaccine for Covid-19 was a worldwide priority. Funding was made available very quickly and scientists across the world have worked together to develop the vaccines, which has meant they were able to complete years of work in months.
Similarly, thousands of people across the world volunteered to take part in the clinical trials, whereas it usually takes a long time to find enough volunteers for a vaccine trial.
The other factor was that all the different bodies involved in checking the safety of the vaccines worked together so this could happen as quickly as possible and sped up the administrative processes, which can often take several years. For example, usually the different phases of the clinical trials take place one after another but for the covid-19 vaccine, some of them ran at the same time to speed up the process.
Are there any groups that shouldn’t have the vaccine?
People with history of a severe allergy to the ingredients of the vaccines should not be vaccinated.
Should people who have already had COVID get vaccinated?
Yes, if they are in a priority group identified by JCVI. The 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.
How will people be invited for a vaccination?
When it is the right time people will be contacted to make their appointments. For most people they will receive a letter either from their GP or the national booking system; this will include all the information they need, including their NHS number. Some services are currently also phoning and texting patients to invite them in. We know lots of people will be eager to get protected but we would ask people not to contact the NHS to get an appointment until they are contacted. The NHS is working hard to make sure those at greatest risk are offered the vaccine first.
Does the vaccine include any parts from foetal or animal origin?
There is no material of foetal or animal origin in either vaccine. All ingredients are published in healthcare information on the MHRA’s website – for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.
Leaders from Muslim, Hindu and Jewish faiths have all said that the vaccines are suitable for people of their religions and people shouldn’t hesitate to get them
Are the vaccines safe?
Yes. The covid-19 vaccines approved for use in the UK have met strict standards of safety and effectiveness.
They have been approved by an independent body (The Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency), which follows international standards of safety, and have gone through all the same clinical trials and safety checks that all other licensed medicines have to complete before they can be used.
The vaccines have been thoroughly tested and no safety concerns were seen in studies of more than 20,000 people of different ages and ethnic backgrounds. As of 10 February, more than 13 million people have had a Covid-19 vaccine in the UK and reports of serious side effects, such as allergic reactions, have been very rare. No long-term complications have been reported.
Are the vaccines safe for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities?
The trials demonstrated that the vaccines are consistently safe and effective across different ethnic groups.
For the Pfizer trial, participants included 9.6% black/African, 26.1% Hispanic/Latino and 3.4% Asian. For the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine 10.1% of trail recipients were Black and 3.5% Asian. Full details are available in the Public Assessment Reports, which contain all the scientific information about the trials and information on trial participants. These can be found at:
Can the vaccines make you ill?
You can’t get Covid-19 from having the vaccine. As with flu, it is possible to have caught Covid-19 and not realise you have the symptoms until after your vaccination appointment but the vaccine cannot give you the virus.
Are there any side effects?
Like all vaccines, the Covid-19 vaccines can cause side effects in some people. Most of these are mild and short term, and not everyone gets them. Very common side effects include:
- having a painful, heavy feeling and tenderness in the arm where you had your injection. This tends to be worst around 1-2 days after the vaccine
- feeling tired
- general aches, or mild flu like symptoms
These tend to happen in the first couple of days after the vaccination and last a few days. You can rest and take the normal dose of paracetamol (follow the advice in the packaging) to help you feel better.
If your symptoms seem to get worse or if you are concerned, call NHS 111 or your GP practice.
Can the vaccines affect your fertility?
Medical experts agree that it is not possible for the vaccines to affect fertility. Like all vaccines, the covid-19 vaccines teach your body to fight the disease. They do not have any ingredients that would affect fertility and the components leave the body within a few days.
Can I have the vaccine during Ramadan/does the vaccine invalidate fasting?
The British Islamic Medical Association have issued specific advice urging Muslims observing Ramadan not to delay getting the vaccine, drawing on analysis from Islamic scholars which says that injections for non-nutritional purposes do not invalidate the fast
Further information is available on the British Islamic Medical Association (BIMA) website.
Can I have the vaccine if I’m pregnant?
The Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has updated its guidance to say that pregnant women can have the vaccine if they are at high risk of catching Covid-19 or have clinical conditions that put them at greater risk but they should discuss it with a doctor first.
Can I have the vaccine if I am breastfeeding?
The Joint Committee for Vaccinations and Immunisations has recommended that the vaccines can be given to women who are breastfeeding as there are no known risks to them or their baby. This is in line with recommendations from the World Health Organisation.
Is it safe to try to get pregnant after having the vaccine?
There is no need for women to delay pregnancy after having the vaccination.
How many doses of the vaccine do I need and when?
Both vaccines require two doses to give the maximum amount of protection. The second dose will be given 11-12 weeks after your first dose of the vaccine.
Why do I need two vaccinations?
The evidence from the clinical trials showed that people build up better protection against COVID-19 symptoms when the vaccine is given in two, smaller doses, with an interval between them. If you don’t have your second dose there is no risk to you but you will not be as well protected as you could be.
How long do the vaccines take to work?
Protection starts around seven days after your first dose. To get the maximum amount of protection, people need to have their second dose. Full protection takes effect around a week or two after the second dose.
Will the vaccines work with the new strains?
There is currently no evidence that the new strains will be resistant to the vaccines we have, so we are continuing to vaccinate people as normal. Scientists are looking now in detail at the characteristics of the virus in relation to the vaccines. Viruses, such as the winter flu virus, often branch into different strains but these small variations rarely render vaccines ineffective.
How long will my vaccine be effective for?
We expect these vaccines to work for at least a year – if not longer – but this will be constantly monitored.