Frequently asked questions

Frequently asked questions about the COVID-19 vaccine

About the vaccine

What’s in the vaccine?

The UK is currently using the PfizerBioNTech, OxfordAstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines. We will have more doses of the OxfordAstraZeneca vaccines so expect this is the one most people will receive.

The ingredients for the vaccines are publicised on the Government’s website.

How do the vaccines 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.

Is the vaccine suitable for my diet (e.g.: vegetarian, Halal)?

The approved COVID-19 vaccines do not contain any animal or foetal products.

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.

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.

How effective are the COVID-19 vaccines?

The vaccines have been shown to be highly effective at stopping people from becoming seriously ill or dying from COVID-19. Latest evidence also suggests that they help to prevent the virus spreading. The most recent analysis by Public Health England found that the vaccines have prevented between 26,000 and 28,000 deaths in England alone and between 6.4 and 7.9 million infections.

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.

Is one vaccine better than the other? 

All vaccines have been shown to be safe and highly effective. No trials have been carried out to compare the vaccines: the important thing is that they will both protect you from becoming seriously ill from COVID-19.

How many doses of the vaccine do I need and when?

Three of the vaccines (Oxford-AstraZeneca, Pfizer, and Moderna) require two doses to give the maximum amount of protection. The second dose should be given between 8 and 12 weeks after your first dose of the vaccine.

In response to the rising number of cases of the Delta variant, second doses are currently being brought forward to 8 weeks for all adults. This is to ensure everyone has the strongest possible protection from the Delta variant of the virus at the earliest opportunity possible and builds on the earlier JCVI recommendation that second doses for people at greatest risk from COVID-19 should be brought forward to 8 weeks.

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.

Evidence shows that the second dose not only increases your protection against Covid but gives you longer-lasting protection so it is very important that you have both doses. COVID-19 can make you very seriously ill and have long-term effects on your health so getting the maximum protection possible will give you the best chance of avoiding this. For example, having two doses has been shown to be over 90% effective in preventing hospitalisation.

Why have second doses been brought forward?

Second doses are now being brought forward to 8 weeks for all adults, following the rising number of cases of the Delta variant. Evidence has shown that the second dose is particularly important for providing protection against this variant so bringing these forward will ensure everyone has the strongest possible protection from the Delta variant of the virus at the earliest opportunity possible.

How can I get a vaccination?

There are a range of vaccination services available including services run by local GPs and pharmacies, large-scale vaccination centres and pop-up clinics in local communities. You can book an appointment at www.nhs.uk/covid-vaccine or visit the following link www.leedsccg.nhs.uk/health/coronavirus/covid-19-vaccine/walk-in-clinics/ for details of walk-in services near you.

Can you walk in to any of the services to get a vaccination?

Some of the vaccination services now offer walk-in appointments as well as bookable appointments, and there are also a variety of pop-up walk-in services in local communities. Details of times and services are available on the following link www.leedsccg.nhs.uk/health/coronavirus/covid-19-vaccine/walk-in-clinics/

Can people get a vaccine without their NHS number or if they aren’t registered with a GP?

Yes. Anyone can get a vaccine, even if they do not have an NHS number or are not registered with a GP. The simplest way to do this is to go one of the walk-in vaccination services www.leedsccg.nhs.uk/health/coronavirus/covid-19-vaccine/walk-in-clinics/ 

Although you don’t need to be registered with a GP to get your vaccination, this is important to make sure you get healthcare when you need it. You will also be invited for other vaccinations and important health checks to keep you well. Details of how to do this are available at: www.nhs.uk/nhs-services/gps/how-to-register-with-a-gp-surgery/

How will I get my second vaccination?

You will be given your second vaccination 8-12 weeks after your first one.

If you had your first vaccination at your local GP centre, you will be contacted by your practice when it is time to have your second dose.

If you booked your first vaccination through the National Booking Service, you will have made your second appointment at the same time. If you need to check when this is or make any changes you can do this online or by calling 119.

If you had your first dose at a walk-in service, you can book your second appointment through the National Booking Service. This can be done from 24 hours after your first vaccination, once your record will have been updated.

Can I get a vaccine privately?

No. Vaccinations are only available through the NHS and are free of charge. If anyone claims to be able to provide you with a vaccine for a fee, they are likely to be committing a crime and should be reported to the police online or by calling 101.

Remember:

  • The NHS will never ask you for your bank account or card details
  • The NHS will never ask you for your PIN or banking password
  • The NHS will never arrive unannounced at your home to administer the vaccine
  • The NHS will never ask you to prove your identity by sending copies of personal documents such as your passport, driving licence, bills or pay slips.

Eligibility and priority groups

How were people prioritised for vaccinations?

The Joint Committee for Vaccinations & Immunisations (JCVI) set out detailed guidance for the order in which people should be vaccinated based on preventing death from COVID-19 and the need to protect health and social care staff and systems.

Nine groups were prioritised to receive the vaccines, including care home residents and staff, people aged 50 years of age and over, people who are at increased risk from COVID-19 due to a health condition and frontline health and social care staff. Everyone in thee groups was offered a vaccination by the middle of April 2021.

The second phase of the vaccine rollout is to people under 50. The JCVI recommended that the rollout should continue to be prioritised by age, with people invited in the following order:

  • 40-49 year olds
  • 30-39 year olds
  • 18-29 year olds

I’m housebound, how will I get my vaccination?

Your GP practice will make arrangements for you to have your vaccination at home and contact you when it is your turn.

Which conditions are included in cohort 6?

The JCVI guidance recommends that people with the following conditions should be included in cohort 6:

  • chronic respiratory disease, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis and severe asthma
  • chronic heart disease (and vascular disease)
  • chronic kidney disease
  • chronic liver disease
  • chronic neurological disease including epilepsy
  • Down’s syndrome
  • people with a learning disability
  • diabetes
  • solid organ, bone marrow and stem cell transplant recipients
  • people with specific cancers
  • immunosuppression due to disease or treatment
  • asplenia and splenic dysfunction
  • morbid obesity
  • severe mental illness

People who are the main carer for an elderly or disabled person are also included in cohort 6.

I am an unpaid carer – am I eligible for a vaccination?

People who are the main carer for an elderly or disabled person were included in cohort 6. If you receive Carer’s Allowance, you can book an appointment using the National Booking Service or if you are registered as a carer with your GP practice, they should have contacted you to offer you a vaccination.

If not, you can contact www.carersleeds.org.uk or call 0113 20 69624 and if you are eligible you will be added to the list for a vaccination.

Safety, testing and side effects

What are the short-term and long-term 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
  • headache
  • 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.

You should call 111 immediately if you get any of these symptoms starting from around 4 days to 4 weeks after being vaccinated:

  • a severe headache that is not relieved with painkillers or is getting worse
  • a headache that feels worse when you lie down or bend over
  • a headache that’s unusual for you and occurs with blurred vision, feeling or being sick, problems speaking, weakness, drowsiness or seizures (fits)
  • a rash that looks like small bruises or bleeding under the skin
  • shortness of breath, chest pain, leg swelling or persistent abdominal (tummy) pain

You can also report suspected side effects to vaccines and medicines online through the Yellow Card scheme.

So far, thousands of people have been given a COVID-19 vaccine and reports of serious side effects, such as allergic reactions, have been very rare. No long-term complications have been reported.

I am worried that the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine might cause blood clots – should I still have it?

The UK’s independent regulator, the MHRA, is monitoring reports of an extremely rare blood clotting problem affecting a small number of people who have had the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. The problem can also happen in people who have not been vaccinated and it’s not yet clear why it affects some people.

Both the MHRA and Joint Committee for Vaccinations & Immunisations (JCVI) have emphasised that the risk is extremely small – just over 10 people in every million have developed this condition – and that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks for the vast majority of people.

If you are aged 40 or over and have a health condition that puts you at greater risk from COVID-19, you should still have whichever vaccine is offered to you. The benefits of the vaccine in preventing you becoming seriously ill or dying from COVID-19 outweigh any risk of clotting problems. Similarly, if you had AstraZeneca for your first dose you should also have this for your second vaccination, whatever your age, unless you experienced this very rare clotting after your first dose.

For people under 40 without any health conditions, the JCVI has advised that it’s preferable to have alternative COVID-19 vaccine where available and where this will not cause delays to people having the vaccine. This is a precautionary measure, which takes into account that this rare condition has been seen more often in younger people and that the risks from COVID-19 decrease with age.

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:

How do scientists know that the vaccine is safe?

The vaccines approved for use in the UK have met strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness set out by the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Any coronavirus vaccine that is approved must go through all the clinical trials and safety checks all other licensed medicines go through. The MHRA follows international standards of safety.

Other vaccines are being developed. They will only be available on the NHS once they have been thoroughly tested to make sure they are safe and effective.

The vaccine has been shown to be effective and no safety concerns were seen in studies of more than 20,000 people of different ages and ethnic backgrounds. So far, millions of people have had a COVID-19 vaccine and reports of serious side effects, such as allergic reactions or clotting problems, have been very rare.

How has the vaccine been developed so quickly?

There has been an unprecedented worldwide scientific collaboration and funding to create the vaccine. This global effort has allowed scientists to work at speed, and complete years of work within months.

For COVID-19 research (including vaccine development), the set-up process has been streamlined by establishing a single, collective UK system-wide approach involving all the appropriate bodies, meaning that it can move through the process much quicker.

As well as this, the COVID-19 vaccines have been developed under extraordinary circumstance. Under usual circumstances, the development of vaccines – from the trials that test them to the processes that approve them – can take many years, due to administrative and bureaucratic processes.

No clinical trial can take place if there aren’t volunteers. In the case of COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials, which were developed during a pandemic, thousands of volunteers were recruited to trials very quickly. Under ‘normal’ circumstances, it’s likely that this would have taken a lot longer, because people would have been unable – or unwilling – to participate for a variety of reasons including work commitments.

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.

How do we know there won’t be side effects in 5 or 10 years’ time?

So far, thousands of people have been given a COVID-19 vaccine and reports of serious side effects, such as allergic reactions, have been very rare. No long-term complications have been reported.

Like every other vaccine in the world – and indeed like every medicine and treatment – COVID-19 vaccines may cause side effects in some people who are vaccinated.

This does not mean that every person who has a vaccine will experience side effects, or that the side effects will be particularly bad or damaging.

It’s also important to remember that no vaccine will be approved – or even be tested in a phase 3 clinical trial – if it hasn’t first passed other safety checks. At every stage of a vaccine’s development, from animals studies right through to phase 1 and phase 2 trials, safety is always being checked and side effects monitored.

I’ve heard a lot of rumours about the vaccine – how can I find out if they are true or false?

It is best to first check the source of the information you have received. We are aware that there are a number of rumours and misinformation and we understand why some people may feel apprehensive. The NHS has set up a webpage with lots of information on the vaccine as well as links to other trusted sources of information www.nhs.uk/CovidVaccine or www.gov.uk/coronavirus

In Leeds we are developing a range of resources in different formats so you can make an informed choice about the vaccine. The vaccine is not compulsory however it does give us the greatest chance of beating COVID-19. This will help protect you and your loved ones as well as helping your NHS.

COVID-19 vaccine and fertility

Fertility information sheet: medical experts and scientists agree that it is not possible for the vaccine to affect fertility

The Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Midwives issued a press notice on 19 January, responding to misinformation around COVID-19 vaccine and how there’s no evidence to suggest that COVID-19 vaccines will affect fertility.

Logistics

Which vaccine will I get?

The UK is currently using the PfizerBioNTech, OxfordAstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines. If you are under 40 or pregnant, you will have either Pfizer or Moderna. If you are 40 or over, or have a health condition that puts you at greater risk from Covid-19, you will be given whichever vaccine is available at the time of your appointment.

What’s the difference between the different vaccines?

The vaccines that the NHS uses and in what circumstances will be decided by the MHRA. Both vaccines are classed as being very effective. The Oxford/AstraZeneca is easier to store and transport, meaning we can deliver them in more places, and we expect to have more doses available as they are manufactured in the UK, so we would expect that most people are likely to receive this vaccine over the coming weeks and months.

Can I choose which vaccine I get?

It will not be possible to give a choice between different vaccines as the healthcare professional vaccinating you will have to use the vaccine that is available at the time of your appointment.

The vaccines approved for use in the UK have met strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness set out by the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Any coronavirus vaccine that is approved must go through all the clinical trials and safety checks all other licensed medicines go through. The MHRA follows international standards of safety.

How do I know when it will be my turn? Who will contact me?

The NHS will contact people when it is their turn. Most people will either be contacted by their GP practice or recieve a letter or text from the NHS National Booking Service. Texts will be sent using the Government’s secure Notify service and will show as being sent from ‘NHSvaccine’ with a link to the NHS.uk website.

People can also book an appointment directly through the National Booking Service on nhs.uk if they meet the current age threshold (www.nhs.uk/covid-vaccination) or by calling 119. The homepage will tell you what the current age limit is and will be updated each time the age limit reduces.

The NHS will follow up with people that haven’t booked their appointment, as a reminder.

Who is going to give me my vaccine and have they been properly trained?

All vaccinators have to undertake a rigorous training programme. To deliver the largest immunisation campaign in its history, the NHS is asking a number of trained healthcare professionals to support the vaccine roll out. This includes GPs, nurses and pharmacists.

Existing health issues

I’ve got a health condition – how will I find out if the vaccine is safe for me?

Tell healthcare staff before you are vaccinated if you’ve ever had a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis).

You should not have the vaccine if you’ve ever had a serious allergic reaction to:

  • a previous vaccine
  • a previous dose of the same COVID-19 vaccine
  • some medicines, household products or cosmetics

Serious allergic reactions are rare. If you do have a reaction to the vaccine, it usually happens in minutes. Staff giving the vaccine are trained to deal with allergic reactions and treat them immediately.

I’ve already had COVID-19, do I need to get the vaccine?

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, including those who have mild residual symptoms. Where people are suffering significant ongoing complications from COVID-19 they should discuss whether or not to have a vaccine now with a clinician.

If you have symptoms that could be coronavirus you should get a test and not get your vaccine until your period of self-isolation has ended.

If I’m shielding, am I allowed to travel to get my vaccine?

We are advising clinically extremely vulnerable people to stay at home as much as possible. You can still go outside for exercise or to attend health appointments, but try to keep all contact with others outside of your household to a minimum, and avoid busy areas.

Before attending any scheduled medical appointments, including the coronavirus vaccine, you should contact the clinic in advance to let them know you are clinically extremely vulnerable.

Can I have the vaccine if I’m pregnant?

The Joint Committee for Vaccinations and Immunisations has advised that pregnant women should be offered COVID-19 vaccines at the same time as people of the same age or risk group.  They have said it is preferable for pregnant women to have the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccine where available because they’ve been more widely used during pregnancy in other countries and no safety concerns have been identified. There is no evidence to suggest that other vaccines are unsafe for pregnant women but more research is needed.

You should speak to a healthcare professional before you have the vaccination to discuss the benefits and risks with you. You should also read the COVID-19 leaflet for childbearing, pregnant or breastfeeding women https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/980176/PHE_11920_COVID-19_vaccination_pregnancy_v4.pdf

Can I have the vaccine if I am breastfeeding?

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) 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.

For further information please follow this link https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-vaccination-women-of-childbearing-age-currently-pregnant-planning-a-pregnancy-or-breastfeeding/covid-19-vaccination-a-guide-for-women-of-childbearing-age-pregnant-planning-a-pregnancy-or-breastfeeding

Is it safe to try to get pregnant after having the vaccine?

Yes. There is no need for women to delay pregnancy after having the vaccination.

The NHS national booking service

What are the operating hours of the telephone booking system?

The telephone booking service will be open 16 hours a day (from 7am until 11pm), seven days a week. People will also be able to book online 24/7.

What should people do if they can’t get through to the phone line straight away?

At times, due to high demand, the phone line will get very busy, which may mean waiting on the line for a while or calling back later. People can alternatively book online. If you need help to do this please ask someone in your support bubble.

What information will I need to book?

You will need to provide your name, date of birth, postcode and ideally your NHS number, which will be included on your booking letter. If you have lost your letter or don’t have your NHS number, you may need to provide the name and postcode/postcode of the GP practice you are registered with – in this circumstance you should use the phone booking service.

Does the national booking service work for people who don’t understand English well or are deaf?

The phone line has interpreters and a BSL facility available on request to help you book your appointments.

What if I book an appointment through the NHS website or 119 and I need to rearrange it?

If you need to rearrange an appointment that you booked through the NHS website, you can do this through the ‘manage your appointments’ section on the booking page. If you booked through 119, you can also ring to rearrange your appointment.

If you can’t attend your appointment for any reason, please cancel or rearrange it so that the appointment slot can be given to someone else who needs it.

Can I still book if I previously had an appointment but didn’t attend or cancel it?

Yes. The service will allow anyone who is eligible and has not already had a vaccination to book an appointment.

I’ve received a letter but someone I live who is the same age hasn’t yet. Can we get vaccinated together?

The NHS is inviting eligible people in a phased basis as supplies of the vaccine allow. It is important that you wait for your letter from the NHS, and you will not be able to book without one.

If you have received a letter and live with someone who is also eligible but has not received a letter, it is likely that theirs will follow shortly. If you like you can wait and book at the same time.

How is the service ensuring people don’t fraudulently book an appointment?

People will be asked to provide details of their identity at the time of booking, when they arrive for their appointment and before they are vaccinated.

Other

I’m worried that I may have had the Covishield vaccine so not be able to travel to Europe

The government has confirmed that no Covishield vaccines have been administered in the UK.  All AstraZeneca vaccines given in the UK are the same product and appear on the NHS COVID Pass as Vaxzevria. The European Medicines Agency has authorised this brand of the vaccine and it is therefore recognised by the European Union.

The confusion arose because the AstraZeneca vaccine is manufactured under different commercial names and licences. Although this is the same vaccine, each licence has to be approved separately by the relevant authority in each country. The Covishield licence has not yet been authorised by the UK regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), or the European Medicines Agency so this is why it is not used in the UK or accepted for travel to the EU.

Some batch numbers of the Vaxiveria vaccines were mistakenly listed as being Covishield by the Maltese authorities, which led to some people being refused entry to Malta. The government has confirmed that Malta has now amended their travel advice and that the NHS Covid Pass will be accepted as valid evidence for entry. This is set out on the Maltese government’s website at https://foreignandeu.gov.mt/en/Pages/Travel-Advice.aspx

Information on how to get an online or paper version of the NHS COVID Pass is available on the NHS website.

I’m currently ill with COVID-19, can I get the vaccine?

If you have COVID-19 or are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms you should not receive the COVID-19 vaccine until you have recovered. The guidance says this should be at least four weeks after the start of symptoms or from the date of a positive COVID-19 test.

Should people who have already had Covid or are suffering from ‘Long Covid’ get vaccinated?

Yes. Getting vaccinated is just as important for those who have already had COVID-19 as it is for those who haven’t, including people who have mild residual symptoms. Where people are suffering significant ongoing complications from Covid they should discuss whether or not to have a vaccine now with a clinician.

If I have any questions about the vaccine who should I speak to? Or where should I go?

You should use trusted sources of information such as www.nhs.uk/CovidVaccine or www.gov.uk/coronavirus. When you are invited in for your vaccine you can ask the healthcare professional looking after you for more information. It is important that you avoid sharing information that does not come from a trusted source or appears to have been forwarded many times, such as on WhatsApp.