COVID-19 Vaccines

The Covid-19 vaccine is safe and effective at protecting you from coronavirus. It is only available on the NHS and is being given to people in priority order, starting with the most at risk.

Needles used for vaccination

Key takeaways

  • There are 3 vaccines that have been approved in the UK. These are the Pfizer, Moderna and Oxford vaccines.

  • When administered correctly, the new vaccines lower your chances of developing a COVID-19 infection by 90-96%

  • The vaccines are entirely safe, but in some cases, they may cause very mild side effects.

  • The NHS will contact you via phone, text, or post when it's your turn to get a vaccine.

  • You may still be able to spread coronavirus even if you have been vaccinated.

How do I get a COVID-19 vaccine?

The only way to get the COVID-19 vaccine is from the NHS. You will be called to receive it by your local GP or via a text or letter. When this happens will depend on which group you fall into.

The groups are based on:

  • Age: there is a higher risk of death from COVID-19 the older you are
  • Whether you are clinically extremely vulnerable: the impact of catching COVID-19 is greater is you have underlying health conditions
  • Whether your work means you are highly exposed to the disease: this puts you at greater risk of catching COVID-19

The UK Government aims to vaccinate the key priority groups by 15 February 2021. Priority has been given to:

  • those living in a care home for older adults
  • frontline health care workers
  • frontline social care workers
  • carers working in a care home for older residents

As well as the following groups by age or clinical vulnerability, in the following order:

  • those aged over 80 years
  • those aged over 75 years
  • those aged over 70 years
  • adults on the NHS shielded patient list
  • those aged over 65 years
  • adults under 65 years with long term conditions

The list of underlying health conditions which constitute being ‘clinically vulnerable’ is included in the Government's advice on the priority groups from the Joint Committee on Vaccinations & Immunisations (JCVI).

Those aged 50 to 64 will be offered the vaccine from the end of February to April and the rest of the population by autumn. It is possible that teachers, police, supermarket workers, transport workers and the military will be prioritised in the spring.

When will the vaccine be available to everyone?

This depends on several factors such as production and supply of approved vaccines, regulation of new vaccines, the logistics of a mass vaccination programme and more.

The UK government has more information on why you have to wait for your COVID-19 vaccine, but the aim is for all adults to have had their first dose by September.

How will I be offered the vaccine?

The NHS will contact you by letter or text to invite you for a vaccination

Where will I need to go to get the vaccine?

There are many sites currently operating to provide the vaccine. These include GP surgeries, a small number of pharmacies, hospital hubs and care homes. Major vaccination hubs such as conferences centres, sports stadiums and cathedrals are also being used.

Is the vaccine available privately?

No, the COVID-19 vaccine is not currently available from private healthcare providers.

I am thinking about having a baby, pregnant or breastfeeding. Can I still have the vaccine?

If you are thinking about having a baby, you should still have the vaccine. The vaccine does not affect your ability to conceive and will not give you or your foetus COVID-19.

If you are not deemed high risk and become pregnant after the first dose, it is recommended that you delay the second dose until after the pregnancy is over. If you are high risk, you should discuss this with your doctor.


If you are pregnant, you should talk to your doctor about the vaccine. There is no evidence that the vaccine is unsafe if you are pregnant but more research is needed to be sure of this. As a result, pregnant women are not currently offered the vaccine as routine.

However, if you are in a high-risk group due to your work or have underlying health conditions, you may be given the vaccine.


If you are breastfeeding and eligible for the vaccine, you should discuss your situation with your doctor. The risk is thought to be low and the benefits of breastfeeding are widely acknowledged but there is no data available on the safety of the vaccine for breastfeeding mothers and infants.

Why is the vaccine not being given to children?

Children's bodies work differently to adults, so clinical trials need to be completed to ensure that the vaccine is safe and effective for children. The risk of children being severely impacted by catching COVID-19 is very low, so a vaccine for children has not been a priority but it is included in ongoing research.

Do I have to get the vaccine?

No, vaccinations are not mandatory in the UK so you can choose not to have the vaccine. It is however recommended that you do. It may be the case that proof of vaccination becomes a requirement for entering other countries in the future.

How does the vaccine work?

Vaccines protect you from diseases by exposing your body to a harmless segment of the virus, or to its genetic material, which triggers your body’s immune response. Your body remembers this response and uses it if you are exposed to the disease later, providing you with a level of protection against that specific disease.

While different organisations are working on different vaccines for Covid-19, each different Covid-19 vaccine works in the same way: giving your body the instructions to create the antibodies needed to fight off coronavirus.

Do I have immunity immediately after I have had the vaccine?

No, it takes a few weeks after the first dose for your body to respond to the vaccine and create the immunity to COVID-19.

Do I need to get both doses?

Yes, if you want the maximum protection possible. The vaccine gives you a certain level of protection after the first dose but has been proven in trials to be most effective at protecting you from Covid-19 if you have had both doses.

What is the gap between the doses and why has it changed?

Initially, the two doses were given three to four weeks apart as this was the gap used in the trials. Now the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has decided to give the second dose 12 weeks after the first to provide a good level of protection to as many vulnerable people as quickly as possible.

Is there a difference between the vaccines? Will there be more new vaccines?

All the vaccines that have been approved for use in the UK have been shown to be effective against Covid-19. The UK Government has ordered doses of 7 different vaccines which will become available as they go through the MHRA approval process.

How effective is the COVID-19 vaccine?

Based on clinical trials, the three Covid-19 vaccines approved for use in the UK are all highly effective at preventing severe symptoms of coronavirus when administered properly after two doses.

The vaccine is administered in two doses given a few weeks apart. The first dose provides some immunity and the second dose provides the maximum immunity possible.

Will the vaccine stop me getting COVID-19?

The vaccine has been shown in trials to be effective at protecting patients from COVID-19. As with all vaccines, there is a small chance you could still contract the disease. In these rare instances, the vaccine can reduce the seriousness of your symptoms.

How long will I be protected from COVID-19 after I have had the vaccine?

Researchers are studying this closely as it's too soon to know exactly how long protection will last, but it is likely to be several months. It may also vary between vaccines and may require additional injections on top of the original two doses. We will update this page as soon as there is more information available.

Does the vaccine protect me against new strains?

Yes, for now. The MHRA knows that the vaccine works with different strains of COVID-19 as these strains have been in circulation throughout the trials and regulatory process for the current vaccines. Vaccines work by attacking different parts of a virus, so even if there is a slight mutation, they are still effective. If there start to be many mutations, this can impact the vaccine's effectiveness. In this case, the vaccine will need to be regularly updated, as happens with the flu vaccine.

Is the vaccine safe?

Yes. Reports of serious side effects (e.g. allergic reactions) from vaccines are very rare, and no long-term complications have been reported.

All vaccines must meet the strict safety, quality and effectiveness standards set by Independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). Before a vaccine becomes available, it is put through clinical trials and safety checks, just like all other licenced medicines.

These same checks and regulations will apply to any new COVID-19 vaccine developed and approved for use in the UK.

Can the vaccine give you COVID-19?

The vaccine cannot give you coronavirus. As the vaccine takes a few weeks to work, there is a chance that you can contract COVID-19 after you have had the vaccine, but the vaccine cannot give you coronavirus.

Are there any side effects from the vaccine?

Like all vaccinations, there can be side effects after having the COVID-19 vaccine. Most are very mild and should not last longer than a week:

  • Feeling tired and achy
  • Headache
  • A sore arm where the needle went in

If you are experiencing side effects, you can take painkillers such as paracetamol to ease them.

The vaccine cannot give you COVID-19, but it is possible to contract the virus after having had the vaccine before your immunity develops. If you develop any of the symptoms of COVID-19, you should follow the Government advice and isolate immediately.

You can report any suspected side effect using the Coronavirus Yellow Card safety scheme.

Allergic reactions

Serious allergic reactions are very rare. If they do happen, it will usually be within minutes of your body receiving the vaccine.

If you have ever had a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis), you should tell the healthcare staff before you are vaccinated so that they can take any precautions necessary. The staff are trained to treat serious allergic reactions and know how to help you.

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

The COVID-19 vaccine does not contain any animal products or egg.

Can you spread coronavirus after you've been vaccinated?

Possibly. At the moment we do not know if you can still spread the virus after you've been vaccinated. As a result, it is important that after receiving your vaccine, you continue to follow the guidelines. This means doing everything required to avoid spreading the virus within the community.

Once you have had the vaccine, you must continue to:

  • Wear a mask where it is required: to prevent spreading droplets to other people
  • Follow the social distancing rules: keep 2m from people not in your household
  • Follow COVID-19 restrictions on social gatherings: to minimise the risk of spreading coronavirus

Should I still get a flu jab?

Yes. It is more important than ever this year to have the flu jab if you are eligible. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) recommended leaving at least seven days between the vaccines but talk to your healthcare provider if there is overlap.

Who is making the coronavirus vaccines?

There are many organisations globally working on vaccines for COVID-19, and the UK has acquired multiple different vaccines which will be used to inoculate the population. All these vaccines go through the same strict safety, quality and effectiveness standards set by the MHRA.

There are 3 different vaccines currently approved for use in the UK. When you receive your vaccine, you may or may not know which type you are being given.

There is no one' best' vaccine as they all protect you from the virus. The main differences are how they work and how we distribute them:

Pfizer Vaccine

  • Developed by Pfizer/BioTechnica and approved by the MHRA
  • This is an mRNA vaccine: it uses genetic code to create an immune response.
  • Trials showed that it is 52% effective 12 days after the first dose and 95% effective after the second dose, which was given 3-4 weeks after the first.
  • This vaccine must be kept at around -70C (-100F) and has to be mixed with another liquid to be administered.
  • Currently being given as part of the vaccination programme.

Oxford Vaccine

  • Oxford University/AstraZeneca and approved by the MHRA
  • This is an adenovirus vaccine: a harmless cell contains viral DNA to teach your cells to build immunity. The fact it contains the live virus does not mean you will get COVID-19. There is next-to-no chance of this happening.
  • Initial trials showed that it is 64.1% effective after the first dose, with no-one getting seriously ill from Covid-19, and 70.4% after the second dose.
  • Following trials showed that the effectiveness of the vaccine increased to 90% when a half dose was given first followed by a full dose for the second injection.
  • This vaccine needs to be kept between 2-8C and protected from light. It can be delivered in refrigerated vans or cool boxes, making it easier to distribute than the Pfizer vaccine.
  • Currently being given as part of the vaccination programme.

Moderna Vaccine

  • Developed by Moderna and approved by the MHRA
  • This is an mRNA vaccine: it uses genetic code to create an immune response.
  • Trials show that it is 80.2% effective after the first dose and 95.6% after the second dose, which was given 28 days later.
  • This vaccine needs to be kept at -20c so it needs to be stored and transported in a freezer.
  • Due to be given as part of the vaccination programme in Spring 2021.

Last reviewed: 25 Jan 2021

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