05/01/21 COVID-19 Vaccine Frequently asked Questions

1. What vaccine for COVID-19 is currently available?

Both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines are now available. Both vaccines have been shown to be safe and offer high levels of protection, and have been given regulatory approval by the MHRA.

The Government has in principle secured access to seven different vaccine candidates, across four different vaccine types, totalling over 357 million doses. This includes:

· 40 million doses of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine

· 100m doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.

· 7 million doses of the Moderna vaccine, which is also being assessed by the MHRA.

2. 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.   

3. With the national lockdown – should I still attend my vaccination appointment?

Yes. Getting the COVID-19 vaccine, or any other vaccine, is an important medical appointment and so is within the rules wherever you live. Vaccinations will continue as normal in all areas. If you have booked or are offered an appointment, please attend it. The place that you choose to have your vaccine will keep you safe from COVID-19 through a range of measures including cleaning and disinfecting and having social distancing in waiting areas. Please also wear a face covering to your appointment. You should also take the usual steps to minimise your risk as you travel to your appointment.

4. Will the vaccines work with the new strain?

There is no evidence currently that the new strain 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.

Why are you postponing second doses?

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.

5. I already have a second vaccine appointment booked – will this still take place?

Vaccinations that were booked to take place during week commencing 04/01/20 will take place as normal. Following the recent change in Government guidance, people receiving their first vaccine dose after 04/01/20, will be invited to attend their second appointment within twelve weeks.

People are reminded that they will be contacted by the NHS directly to arrange a vaccination appointment. Please continue to attend all booked vaccination appointments as planned, if any details need to change you will be contacted by your local GP surgery direct.

6. Why are healthcare workers amongst the first groups to receive the vaccine?

The JCVI have put patient-facing health and social care staff into a priority group because of their heightened risk of exposure to the virus. Healthcare workers are not the top priority though, and with limited vaccine available up to now, employers have been asked to offer the vaccine to the most at risk healthcare workers first. With many more doses now expected over the coming weeks, employers will be widening this out and protecting staff as soon as possible.

The NHS is experienced in vaccinating hundreds of thousands of staff quickly and safely – we do it every year for the flu vaccine – and all local NHS employers will be responsible for ensuring that 100% of eligible staff have the opportunity to take it up over the coming weeks and months.

7. Why aren’t all healthcare workers getting vaccinated right now?

The Government have confirmed that the vast majority of vaccinations administered by the NHS in this initial phase will be prioritised for those 80 years of age and over and care home residents and workers.

Up to now some staff have been vaccinated to avoid doses going to waste, with employers asked to identify those who can benefit most to go first using the risk

assessment framework to identify those at greatest risk. Over the following days and weeks as we get more supplies this will continue to be rolled out.

8. How will healthcare workers get the vaccine?

The NHS will offer vaccinations using different models. For healthcare workers, dozens of NHS trusts will act as hospital hubs where NHS staff can get vaccinated on site.

9.Will you use the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine more because it’s cheaper and easier to store?

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.

10. 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.

11. Do I need to leave a space between having the flu vaccine and having the Covid vaccine?

It is not essential to leave time between the flu and Covid vaccine but it is recommended that there should be a gap of a week.

We would always encourage anyone who is eligible but not yet taken up their flu jab to do so as soon as possible.

12. Can people pick what vaccine they want? 

Any vaccines that the NHS will provide 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.

If a household has a priority group member, such as an NHS frontline worker or vulnerable person,  will everyone living in that household be vaccinated together?   

These decisions are for the JCVI. Their current prioritisation plan does not include household members of NHS staff or clinically vulnerable people automatically – although in some cases family members may be eligible in their own right.

13. Can I get a private vaccine?

No. Vaccinations will only be available through the NHS for the moment. Anyone who claims to be able to provide you with a vaccine for a fee is likely to be committing a crime and should be reported to the Police online or by calling 112.

14. Does the NHS have capacity to deliver both vaccines or will one have to be prioritised?  

The NHS has already vaccinated hundreds of thousands of people in the highest priority groups and has planned extensively to ensure that we can continue to ramp up the programme based on the number of doses that are available to us.

15. Is one better than the other?

The important point for any vaccine is whether the MHRA approves 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. Data from clinical trials does suggest the Pfizer vaccine offers marginally more protection, but both are classed as highly effective.

16. Is one easier to deliver?

All vaccines present different logistical requirements, but the NHS has been planning for all eventualities, and people should be assured that the vaccine they will be offered is available because it has been assessed and approvedby experts as being safe and effective.

17. Who gets the vaccine first?

The Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) published its final advice on 2 December which can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/prioritygroups-for-coronavirus-covid-19-vaccination-advice-from-the-jcvi-2-december2020/priority-groups-for-coronavirus-covid-19-vaccination-advice-from-the-jcvi-2-december-2020

The Government has confirmed that the vast majority of vaccinations administered in this initial phase will be prioritised for those 80 years of age and over, and care home workers.

Vaccinating services should therefore ensure any unfilled appointments are used to vaccinate healthcare workers, from across their local healthcare system, who have been identified at highest risk of serious illness from COVID-19. Healthcare providers have been undertaking staff risk assessments throughout the pandemic to identify such individuals.

18. Has the MHRA approved care home jabs?

Yes, this has been approved and the NHS has been working through the delivery mechanism to ensure we can safely break up batches, transport it and deliver it in care homes. The roll out to care homes has now started.

19.Who is getting vaccinated now?

Vaccinations in England started on 8 December, with Margaret Keenan becoming the first person to be vaccinated in Coventry. Across the country, care home staff, those aged 80 years of age and over, as well as NHS staff considered to be a risk will be offered vaccination in line with JCVI recommendations, and we are now rolling out vaccines in care homes. Figures on the number of people vaccinated are published weekly and can be found here: https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/details/healthcare

20. How long will my vaccine be effective for?

We expect these vaccines to work for at least a year – if not longer. This will be constantly monitored.

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 programme.

21. How effective are the vaccines?  How long do they take to work?

The MHRA have said these vaccines are highly effective, but to get full protection people need to come back for the second dose – this is really important.

To ensure as many people are vaccinated as quickly as possible, the Department for Health and Social Care now advise that the second dose of both the OxfordAstraZeneca and the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine should be scheduled up to 12 weeks apart.

What happens if a person has the first jab but not the second?

Both vaccines have been authorised on the basis of two doses because the evidence from the clinical trials shows that this gives the maximum level of protection.

To ensure as many people are vaccinated as quickly as possible, the Department for Health and Social Care now advise that the second dose of both the Oxford/AstraZeneca and the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine should be scheduled up to 12 weeks apart.

The evidence doesn’t show any risk to not having the second dose other than not being as protected as you otherwise would be. We would urge everyone to show up for both of their appointments for their own protection as well as to ensure we don’t waste vaccines or the time of NHS staff.  

22. Are there any side effects?

These are important details which the MHRA always consider when assessing candidate vaccines for use.

For these vaccines, 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 tens of thousands of 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.

More information on possible side effects can be found at https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/coronavirus-vaccination/coronavirus-vaccine/

23. 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.

The MHRA have updated their guidance to say that pregnant women and those who are breastfeeding can have the vaccine but should discuss it with a clinician to ensure that the benefits outweigh any potential risks.

More information

For the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine information is available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/regulatory-approval-of-pfizer-biontech-vaccine-for-covid-19

For the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine information is available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/regulatory-approval-of-covid-19-vaccine-astrazeneca

The British Islamic Medical Association have produced a helpful guide for the Muslim community which can be found at https://britishima.org/pfizer-biontech-covid19-vaccine/

NHS staff, patients and visitors must continue to wear face coverings in healthcare settings, unless they are exempt.

Please help us reduce the risk of infection for our staff and patients by following this guidance.