How does the COVID vaccine work?
Vaccines teach your immune system how to create antibodies that protect you from diseases. The COVID vaccine works by giving our body a set of instructions to make a harmless “spike protein” which will create the antibodies and cells required to fight off coronavirus. The main ingredient of any vaccine is a small amount of bacteria, virus or toxin that’s been weakened or destroyed in a laboratory first. This means there is no risk of healthy people catching a disease from a vaccine.
Why do we need a vaccine for COVID?
There are no drugs known to prevent or cure COVID-19. A few drugs have been found to reduce the death rate from COVID but only a vaccine can prevent people catching the disease and being ill from it.
Is the NHS confident the vaccine is 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 this vaccine is safe and highly effective, 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.
Are there any side effects?
These are important details which the MHRA always consider when assessing candidate vaccines for use. For this vaccine, like lots of others, they have identified that some people might feel slightly unwell, but they report that no significant side effects have been observed in the over 43,000 people involved in trials. All patients will be provided with information on the vaccine they have received, how to look out for any side effects, and what to do if they do occur, including reporting them to the MHRA.
How effective is the vaccine?
How long does it take to work? The MHRA have said this vaccine is highly effective, but to get full protection people need to come back for the second dose – this is really important. Full protection kicks in around a week or two after that second dose, which is why it’s also important that when you do get invited, you act on that and get yourself booked in as soon as possible.
Who will get the vaccine?
The NHS is currently offering the COVID-19 vaccine to people most at risk from coronavirus. The order in which people will be offered the vaccine is based on advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). This priority list is as follows:
- Residents in a care home for older adults and their carers
- All those 80 years of age and over and frontline health and social care workers
- All those 75 years of age and over
- All those 70 years of age and over and clinically extremely vulnerable individualse. all those 65 years of age and over
- All individuals aged 16 years to 64 years with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality
- All those 60 years of age and over
- All those 55 years of age and over
- All those 50 years of age and over
Do 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.
Can people pick which vaccine they want?
Any vaccines that are available will have been approved because they pass the MHRA’s tests on safety and efficacy, so people should be assured that whatever vaccine they get, it is worth their while.
Does one 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.
Who cannot have the COVID vaccine?
The following groups are being advised not to have the vaccine:
- If you’re pregnant – you should wait until you’ve had your baby
- If you’re breastfeeding – you should wait until you’ve stopped breastfeeding
- If you’re trying to get pregnant, you should wait for 2 months after having the 2nd dose before getting pregnant.
- If you’re under 16 (unless you’re at very high risk of exposure and serious outcomes from COVID-19)
- If you have a severe allergy to a component in the vaccine. There’s no evidence it’s unsafe if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding or under 16. But more evidence is needed before you can be offered the vaccine.
How is the COVID-19 vaccine is given?
The COVID-19 vaccine is given as an injection into your upper arm. It’s given as 2 doses, at least 21 days apart.
Can I catch COVID-19 from the vaccine and do I need to self-isolate if I have symptoms?
You cannot catch COVID-19 from the vaccine but it is possible to have caught COVID-19 and not realise you have the symptoms until after your vaccination appointment. The most important symptoms of COVID-19 are recent onset of any of the following:
- A new continuous cough
- A high temperature
- A loss of, or change in, your normal sense of taste or smell (anosmia). Although a mild fever can occur within a day or two of vaccination, if you have any other COVID symptoms or your fever lasts longer, stay at home and arrange to have a test.
How do I get a vaccine?
Our message to the public is:
- Please don’t contact the NHS to seek a vaccine, we will contact you
- When we do contact you, please act immediately, and attend your booked appointments
- Please continue to follow all the guidance – hand hygiene and social distancing in particular – to control the virus and save lives
How will patients be invited for a vaccination?
When it is the right time people will receive an invitation to come forward. For most people this will be in the form of a letter either from their GP or the national booking system; this will include all the information they need, including their NHS number. 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 until they get their letter.
How will GPs be told who to vaccinate?
The JCVI will set criteria on an ongoing basis for who should get the vaccine when. 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.
Can I give COVID-19 to anyone now I have had the vaccine?
It is still important to follow the guidance in your local area to protect those around you. The vaccine cannot give you COVID-19 infection, and a full course will reduce your chance of becoming seriously ill. We do not yet know whether it will stop you from catching and passing on the virus, but we do expect it to reduce this risk.