The COVID-19 vaccine is our best defence against the virus – used alongside effective social distancing, wearing a mask and washing your hands.
Getting vaccinated means protecting yourself, and potentially your family, friends and patients from the virus.
The vaccine has been developed and approved following a number of clinical trials involving thousands of people across the world. It has also undergone mandatory safety tests to ensure it is safe for humans.
It is given in two doses by your local NHS service. Appointments will be held up to 12 weeks apart, based on updated guidance from the UK’s Chief Medical Officers.
Below, you can find answers to many of the most commonly asked questions. You can also find the most up to date national guidance on the NHS website.
Vaccine safety and effectiveness
Is the vaccine safe?
Yes. 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.
The NHS does not offer any COVID-19 vaccination to the public unless it is approved as safe and effective by the UK regulator. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the official UK regulator authorising licensed use of medicines and vaccines by healthcare professionals, makes this decision for each potential vaccine, and we have full confidence in their expert judgement and processes.
Are there any side effects?
The vaccine is very well tolerated with reported side effects similar to the flu jab – soreness or redness at the injection site and some have reported a headache. Further detail on side effects can be found in the leaflet in the “resources” section.
How long does immunity last for after the vaccination?
COVID-19 remains a new infection and close observation by experts continues. At this stage it is unclear whether the vaccine will need to given yearly, like the flu vaccine, or less frequently.
Trials for length of vaccine protection continue and will also inform how vaccination for COVID-19 is recommended in the future.
How is the vaccine given?
The vaccine is given by injection into the arm or shoulder.
You will need two doses of the vaccine to gain the maximum protection. These doses will be given three to twelve weeks apart. One dose of the vaccine offers important protection, at least in the short term. Updated guidance from the JCVI has recommended that as many people on the JCVI priority list should be offered a first vaccine dose as the initial priority. You will need to attend two appointments to receive both doses. If you do not have both doses the vaccine will not be fully effective.
Does the vaccine contain the ‘live’ virus? Can it give me or anyone around me COVID-19?
No. The vaccines are designed to produce an immune response to just a small part of the virus, the spike protein. This is the part of the virus that allows it to enter into human cells and cause infection. No whole COVID-19 virus or live virus is used in the vaccines. This means the vaccine cannot give you COVID-19 and does not make you infectious after you have had the vaccine. This means it is also safe for people with a suppressed immune system.
How long does it take for immunity to take effect?
One dose of the vaccine offers important protection, at least in the short term. Updated guidance from the JCVI has recommended that as many people on the JCVI priority list should be offered a first vaccine dose as the initial priority. It is vital that you continue to adhere to social distancing, mask guidelines and practice good hand hygiene. No vaccine is 100% effective so it is also important you to continue to follow any government or workplace advice even after you have completed the vaccination course.
Will pregnant women be offered the vaccine?
There’s no evidence that the vaccine is unsafe if you’re pregnant, but more evidence is needed before you can be routinely offered it. The JCVI recommends that it may be advisable to get the vaccine if you’re pregnant and:
- at high risk of getting coronavirus because of where you work
- have a health condition that puts you at high risk of serious complications if you get coronavirus
You should speak to your healthcare professional before having the vaccination, and they can discuss the risks and benefits with you.
You can have the vaccine if you’re breastfeeding.
You don’t need to avoid pregnancy after the vaccination – it cannot give you or your baby coronavirus.
Can I have the flu vaccine at the same time?
No. You should have your flu jab either a minimum of 7 days before the first COVID-19 vaccination dose or 7 days after you have had the second dose.
Do you have to have a test for COVID-19 before you have a vaccine?
No. You are not required to have a test prior to your vaccination, however if you have any symptoms of COVID-19 infection you must follow government guidelines and must not attend the appointment. You should follow advice you have been given to re-book your appointment.
Does the vaccine cure COVID-19 if you are positive?
You should not have the vaccine if you have had confirmed COVID-19 infection in the previous 28 days unless you are advised by your doctor that it is suitable for you to do so.
Is the vaccine suitable for vegans?
There are no animal products listed in the ingredients.
Are there any non-intramuscular options non-injection options such as a nasal spray or pill?
Not at this time.
Do people who have already had COVID-19- get vaccinated?
Yes, if they are in a priority group identified by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). We don’t yet know how long immunity lasts after having been infected with COVID-19, so getting vaccinated is just as important for those who have already had it as it is for those who haven’t.
If I have antibodies do I need a vaccine?
Yes. It’s not clear how long antibodies produced following infection may provide protection and whether the protection is as effective as that provided by vaccination. It is therefore recommended you have a vaccine if offered one.
Can people pick which vaccine they want?
No. Vaccines given will be based on availability, except for when a patient’s medical history means a specific vaccine must be used. Any vaccines that are available will have been approved by the MHRA so you should be assured that whatever vaccine you are offered, it is safe and effective.
Does one vaccine have the potential to be better than another?
We will need to see the final clinical evidence from trials on this. The important point for any vaccine is whether MHRA approve it for use – if it does then that means it’s a worthwhile vaccine to have and people should have it if they are eligible. The Government has in principle secured access to six different vaccine candidates, including the BioNTech/Pfizer and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines which have been approved and are currently in use. The results seen for all the vaccine candidates so far have been very encouraging and if borne out by final assessments would each be classed as being very effective.
Once vaccinated can people stop wearing a mask/social distancing?
No. While the vaccination prevents the development of the infection in around 90-95% of people, there is still a chance of catching the virus and giving it to others. It is therefore very important to continue wearing a mask, social distancing and practising good hand hygiene.
Have there been any adverse reactions to COVID-19 vaccines?
Since the vaccination programme began in early December, the MHRA has been notified of a very minimal number of cases of anaphylaxis/ allergic reaction, shortly after receiving the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. The individuals received prompt treatment and recovered.
Incidents such as these are common with new vaccines and the MHRA has tried and tested processes to deal with them. The public can be reassured that we continue to adhere to the highest standards of safety as we provide this life-saving vaccine to those who need it most. Individuals should not get the vaccine if they have had a severe allergic reaction to any of the vaccine ingredients.
How many of the priority groups does the NHS expect to vaccinate, before running out of vaccines?
The Government has secured access to six different vaccine candidates, across four different vaccine types, totalling over 350 million doses. This includes:
- BioNTech/Pfizer BioNTech alliance – phase 3 clinical trials (40m doses)
- University of Oxford/AstraZeneca partnership – phase 3 clinical trials (100m doses)
- Moderna (7m doses)
Now the Pfizer BionTech and Oxford Astrazeneca have both been approved, enough doses will be available for everyone who wants one. However, we won’t have all of these doses immediately. The speed of vaccination will be subject to supply – but the UK expects to have received tens of millions of doses of vaccine by Easter. This is going to be a long-term programme.
Over the coming weeks and as more supplies are available, vaccination appointments will continue to be rolled out to other patient-facing health and care staff as per the JCVI’s guidance.
Will key workers, such as teachers and taxi drivers be offered the vaccine?
Not at this stage unless they fall into one of the priority groups. The priority groups are reviewed by the Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisations (JCVI) and, if it is deemed necessary, other groups may also be invited for a vaccination.
Who is being offered a COVID-19 vaccine currently?
The NHS is now offering vaccines to everyone aged 38 and over as well as health and social care workers, unpaid carers and people at higher clinical risk.
Will people who have already had their vaccination through a hospital, GP or care home still get a letter to book through the national system?
This may happen in a small number of cases. If people have had their first vaccination through a hospital or GP service, or are a care home residents, this will be noted through the national system. However in some cases, the letter may have been printed to be sent before the national system was updated. This is explained in the booking letter. If you have already had your first dose, please do not book through the details included on the letter.
When will clinically extremely vulnerable people be offered a vaccine?
People who are classed as clinically extremely vulnerable are in the top four priority groups, so will either have already been contacted or will be very soon. The full list of people defined as clinically extremely vulnerable can be found on the NHS website. If your condition is listed and you have not been contacted, please speak to your GP or hospital care team.
If I live with or care for someone who has a vaccine appointment, can I get mine at the same time?
If you provide unpaid care or live with someone eligible to receive a vaccine, at this time we are not able to also offer you a vaccine. We recognise the vital role unpaid carers play in caring for vulnerable individuals, however we need to prioritise those most at risk from the serious effects of the virus first.
Care home staff are in the highest priority group, and are currently being vaccinated/have been vaccinated alongside care home residents.
Vaccinating healthcare staff
How will staff be offered the COVID-19 vaccine?
All front line staff will be offered the vaccine. If you are a health or social care worker and cannot receive the vaccine at your place of work, your employer will explain the alternative options available to you.
Is it mandatory, and what happens if staff don’t want the jab?
There are no plans for a COVID-19 vaccine to be compulsory. Just as with the winter flu vaccine, local NHS employers will be working hard to ensure 100% of staff are able to get vaccinated, and that any concerns staff have are answered. We are confident that the vast majority of our staff – as they do every year for the flu vaccine – will choose to protect themselves and their patients by getting the vaccine.
Who is vaccinating care home residents and staff?
These people are in the highest priority group and every effort is being made to vaccinate them quickly and safely. GPs have been visiting care homes to vaccinate residents and staff. Staff not on duty at the time can arrange to have the vaccine in an alternative location such as a hospital hub. Some care home residents may also have been vaccinated during a hospital stay. The local NHS is keeping track of who has had the vaccine and where, to ensure everyone has an opportunity to get vaccinated.
How are patients invited for a vaccination?
When it is the right time people will receive an invitation to come forward. For most people this will be a letter from the national booking system or a call from their GP. The letter or caller will explain how to book an appointment and what’s needed.
We know lots of people will be eager to get protected but we are asking people not to contact the NHS to get an appointment. We will contact you when it’s your turn.
You can find more information about local arrangements on the Vaccination Services page.
How do GPs know who to vaccinate?
The JCVI set criteria on an ongoing basis for who should get the vaccine when. You can see the order of priority groups here. GPs will be able to call in or go out to patients based on this, using their patient records. A national invite and recall system, drawn from GP patient records, may also be used.
Where can I get vaccinated?
Please see our Vaccination Services page for full details.
What can I do to prepare for my appointment?
It’s best to go to your appointment on your own if you are able to, but if you do need assistance please bring no more than one person to support you. This is so services can limit the numbers of people in the building and maintain social distancing. Please note that for smaller locations like a pharmacy or GP practice, if the service gets very busy, the person accompanying you may be asked to wait outside for you.
The injection is in your upper arm, so please wear short sleeves or loose sleeves that can be rolled right up to the top of your arm.
It is best to avoid bringing too many bags or belongings where possible.
What can I expect on the day?
This will depend on where your vaccination is taking place, and you will be given more information when you book your appointment.
Generally, you will be booked in on arrival and asked some questions, including whether you’re allergic to anything and whether you’ve had any symptoms or a COVID test. When you are called forward for your vaccination you will be asked which arm you want your injection in. The injection is very quick and you should not feel much pain.
Your vaccinator will give you your aftercare information and you’ll then need to wait for 15 minutes before leaving. It’s important to wait for the full time, so that there’s somebody there to help you in the rare event that you feel dizzy or unwell.
There will be staff and volunteers on hand at all sites, so if you have any questions or need help, just ask.
Do I need my NHS number?
Your NHS Number and the COVID-19 Vaccine
Your NHS number is unique to you and helps healthcare staff and service providers identify you correctly and match your details to your health records.
Where can I find my NHS number?
You should be able to find your NHS Number on any letter or document you have received from the NHS, including prescriptions, test results, and hospital referral or appointment letters. You can also find your NHS number using the number finding tool. Your number will then be texted to you, usually within an hour.
Do I need my NHS number to book a COVID-19 vaccine?
No, you do not need your NHS number to book your vaccine.
How do I book a COVID-19 vaccine?
Find out if you are eligible and book your vaccine online http://www.nhs.uk/coronavirus. If you cannot book online, you can call 119 free of charge. You can speak to a translator if you need to. If you have difficulties communicating or hearing or are a British Sign Language (BSL) user, you can use textphone 18001 119 or the NHS 119 BSL interpreter service https://interpreternow.co.uk/nhs119
Who gives the vaccines?
All vaccinators are members of clinical staff, such as a doctor, nurse or clinical pharmacist, who have had training on vaccines, how to give an injection, and all the mandatory training the NHS has to do. Locally, vaccinators will have inductions and orientation, with all vaccinators being supervised by senior clinicians to ensure safety.
How are second appointments being booked?
If you’ve already had your first jab through a hospital or GP service, the local NHS will contact you about getting your second.
If you choose to get your vaccine through the national booking service, you will book both appointments for your first and second dose, at the same time.
The second dose needs to be given up to 12 weeks from the date of the first.
I’ve had a letter but I have already booked or attended an appointment at a local GP service. What should I do?
If you already have a vaccination booked through your GP (or hospital), or you prefer to go to your local GP service, you can simply ignore the letter. There is nothing more you need to do.
I have the letter but don’t understand how I book my appointment?
If you have received a letter from the national booking centre inviting you to book your vaccination you can do this online or on the phone using the details on the first page of the letter. You will need your name, date of birth and NHS number to book. Your letter will state your NHS number in the top right corner. At the time of booking you will be asked to book your first vaccination and your follow up vaccination, which will be around 12 weeks later.
Please do not contact your GP for guidance on how to book an appointment at a mass vaccination centre, as they cannot access the national booking system.
I’ve received a letter but someone I live with who is in the same priority group hasn’t yet. Can we get vaccinated together?
You can only be vaccinated once you have received your invitation from the NHS. If you have received a letter and live with someone who is also eligible but has not been contacted yet, it is likely that they will be contacted soon. You can wait and book at the same time if you would like to.
How will housebound people be vaccinated?
People who are housebound will be contacted by their local GP-led vaccination service to arrange their vaccination. GPs can make home visits to deliver vaccinations to those who are registered with them as housebound and unable to get to a local service.
What if I need to cancel my appointment?
If you need to cancel, it’s important that you let your vaccination provider know as soon as possible so they can offer the slot to another eligible person.
If your appointment is at a mass vaccination site or pharmacy, please call 119 if you need to reschedule or change your appointment. For appointments at GP-led services please use the contact details provided on your appointment notification.
I’m having COVID symptoms, what should I do?
You must not go to a vaccination service if you have any of the COVID-19 symptoms:
- A new, continuous cough
- A high temperature (fever)
- A loss of or change to your sense of taste or smell.
If you have any of these symptoms, you must self-isolate for 10 days and call 119 to get a test. If you or someone you’ve had contact with tests positive for COVID-19, even if there are no symptoms, you must self-isolate for 10 days.
If you have a vaccination booked and you need to self-isolate, please let your provider know. DO NOT come to your appointment, as you could give the virus to other vulnerable people. Your chosen service will be happy to book you in to another slot in the near future.
There are lots of resources available to help you talk to others about vaccination, or learn more about the vaccination programme, in our resources section.