Covid-19 vaccination: your questions answered

14 mins read

Our health lead Amanda has put together some questions and answers about the Covid-19 vaccination. We are keeping this page under review and will update it as more information becomes available.

In this article

What is the Covid-19 vaccine?

1. What is the Covid-19 vaccine and why get vaccinated?

The Covid-19 vaccine is given as an injection into your upper arm. It is given as two doses, 21 to 90 days apart. The coronavirus (Covid-19) vaccine is safe and effective. It will give you the best protection against coronavirus and will save thousands of lives. 

2. Which vaccines against coronavirus are currently available?

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines were approved for use in the first phase of the Covid-19 vaccination programme.

The US-made Moderna vaccine more recently received UK approval and is being rolled out, starting with a pilot scheme in Wales. Moderna works in a similar way to the Pfizer vaccine. The government bought 17 million Moderna vaccines. 

The government is using these vaccines to inoculate people against Covid-19, but it has ordered more AstraZeneca vaccine as it is cheaper and easier to store and transport. All vaccines underwent extensive safety trials and authorisation by the independent medicines’ regulator, the MHRA. 

The MHRA has confirmed the Oxford/AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna vaccines do not contain any components of animal origin. You can find out more about the ingredients of the Pfizer vaccine and the ingredients of the AstraZeneca vaccine

3. How many doses of the vaccine are needed and at what interval?

The government’s expert vaccine committee recommended that as many people as possible on the priority list 1-4 got a first vaccine dose ‘as the initial priority’.  

It recommends giving the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine between three to 12 weeks after the first dose, and four to 12 weeks after for the Oxford vaccine. Some people have already received their second dose. 

4. Will a long gap between getting the first and second vaccine dose reduce my protection against Covid-19?

People will get a second dose of the same vaccine within 12 weeks of the first. A recent study showed the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine provided sustained protection of 76% during the 12-week interval between the first and second dose. It also showed the vaccine may substantially reduce transmission of the virus. 

Who will get the vaccine?

5. Who will get the vaccine and when?

The government started by vaccinating adults in priority groups 1-4, which included people aged 65 and over, care home residents and staff, people aged 16 and over who are clinically extremely vulnerable and front-line health and social care staff.  

It then moved on to priority groups 5-9, including vulnerable people aged 16 and over with underlying health conditions, unpaid carers and everyone aged 50 and over. Unpaid carers and people with underlying health conditions are in priority group 6. People aged 45 and over can now get a vaccine appointment. 

The NHS vaccination programme has made good progress.  The government hit its target of offering the vaccine all over-50 and everyone in the priority groups by mid-April 2021.  

More people will be offered the vaccine in future. The order people are vaccinated is based on advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). Read the committee’s latest advice on priority groups for the Covid-19 vaccination

Contact campaigned successfully for unpaid carers to be added to the priority list. We continue to press for clinically extremely vulnerable children and those with rare conditions to be prioritised. Read more about the campaign and lend your support.

6. How will people know when and where they can be vaccinated against coronavirus?

The NHS will let you know when it is your turn. 

Once you have received your letter or text you can book your vaccination appointment online, of via NHS 119, if you cannot access online booking. Sometimes the NHS will call you at short notice if a vaccination slot becomes available. 

You will need your ten-digit NHS number from the letter sent to you. You can also find this number on your prescriptions or through your GP online service. 

If you cannot go to one of the large vaccination centres, you can choose to have your vaccination at a primary care network hub (run by groups of GPS) or, in some areas, a pharmacy. 

7. Who should not have the vaccine?

Pregnant women are advised not to have the vaccine. The Covid-19 vaccine can be considered for pregnant women when they have an unavoidable high risk of exposure to Covid-19 or if they have an underlying condition that places them at very high risk of Covid-19 complications. 

Women trying to become pregnant do not need to avoid pregnancy after vaccination, and there is no evidence Covid-19 vaccines affect fertility.  See more on the COVID vaccine, pregnancy, fertility and breastfeeding.   

You should not have the vaccine if you have ever had a serious allergic reaction, including anaphylaxis, to a previous dose of the same vaccine or any ingredients in the vaccine. 

Disabled children, clinically extremely vulnerable people and carers

8. Will my disabled child be invited to have a vaccination against Covid-19?

The Pfizer vaccine is licensed for use in people aged 16 and over. The vaccine will only be offered to young children at high risk of Covid-19 exposure likely to get extremely sick if they get catch it. This includes older children with severe neuro-disabilities prone to frequent respiratory infections who are often in specialist residential care. Doctors will discuss the risks and benefits with their parents because the vaccine is not licensed for under-16s. 

Some parents have managed to secure a Covid vaccine ‘off label’ for their clinically extremely vulnerable children with severe health conditions.  

‘Off label’ means that the Covid vaccine needs to be recommended by the child’s doctor who will be legally responsible for prescribing the vaccine. They can either vaccinate the child themselves or delegate this to another clinician via a Specific Patient Direction. Find out about steps you can take to secure a Covid vaccine for your vulnerable child.

We are pressing the government publish more guidance on vaccinating disabled children. If you are worried, contact your child’s paediatrician and GP to ask if they think your child needs and would benefit from the vaccine. 

Support our campaign pressing the government to prioritise vaccinations for clinically extremely vulnerable children.

9. Will my clinically extremely vulnerable son be offered the Covid-19 vaccine soon?

See question 8 for information on COVID vaccine access for clinically extremely vulnerable children aged under 16.

Clinically vulnerable younger adults are considered at risk of getting extremely ill if they catch the virus. The government’s expert advisers recommend that clinically extremely vulnerable people aged 16 and over should be offered the Pfizer vaccine. Children and pregnant women are not included. 

Many clinically extremely vulnerable people are likely to have compromised immune systems so may not respond as well to the vaccine. Therefore, they should continue to follow government advice on reducing their risk of infection. 

People aged 16 and over who live with adults who have a weakened immune system are also a priority for the vaccine.

See our advice in answer to the question on access to the Covid vaccine for clinically extremely vulnerable children aged under 16, above.

10. Will children and adults with underlying health conditions get the Covid-19 vaccine?

Extremely clinically vulnerable adults should have been offered the vaccine in priority group 4. This group includes included people with Down syndrome, severe and profound learning disability, epilepsy, diabetes lung, kidney and liver disease, transplant recipients, cancer patients, people with suppressed immunity, very obese people, and people with severe mental illness.  People with underlying health conditions and others with a learning disability have been prioritised in group 6. 

We are seeking clarity on plans for a vaccine for children, particularly children living with long-term or rare conditions. 

11. I have heard people with Down’s Syndrome are more at risk if they get Covid-19, will they be vaccinated early on?

People aged 18 and over who have Down’s syndrome have been placed on the clinically extremely vulnerable list and will be offered the vaccine at the same time as people aged 70 and over. People who have Down’s syndrome aged 16 years and over are in the sixth priority group for vaccination covering all people aged 16 years to 64 years with underlying health conditions. 

12. I am an unpaid carer for my disabled child who depends entirely on me being well. Will I get early access to the Covid-19 vaccine?

The government’s expert committee, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JVCI), revised its recommendations on 30 December to include unpaid carers. The government guidance on priority access to the Covid-19 vaccination explicitly says unpaid carers will be offered the vaccine in priority group six alongside people aged under 65 with long-term conditions.  

It recommends unpaid carers who get Carer’s Allowance, or who are the main carer of an elderly or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if the carer falls ill, should be prioritised alongside people with underlying health conditions. This means unpaid carers are in priority group 6: (see Table 3 of the green Book)  

This NHS letter went out to local vaccination sites, pharmacies and local GPs explains how carers, including young carers aged 16 and 17, and other people in groups 5 and 6 should be identified and called for vaccines. It also says that a carer and the individual they care for can be vaccinated at the same time if both individuals are registered as carers at their GP practice. 

Parents should ask for their GP to mark their record with a ‘carers flag’ otherwise they may not be invited for a vaccine. Many practices have a carer registration form on their website. If the practice refuses to add you to their carers register, our advice is to persist politely, citing the NHS guidance and providing documented proof of your carer status. This proof could include a Carer’s Allowance letter or evidence you are in receipt of the Universal Credit carers element, Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independent Payment letters or other official letters or documentation that show you care for a disabled person. 

As a result of feedback from parents, Contact has produced a useful template letter to help parents complain if their GP tells them they are not a priority for the COVID-19 vaccine. 

If your child gets a direct payment to pay for delivering their care at home, it may be worth contacting your local authority direct payments team to ask if you can register to get the vaccine via that route. Local authorities are also helping to arrange for parent carers to get the vaccine via carers assessments and services for carers so you may be able to secure your vaccine via that route. 

We have received assurances from government that work is taking place to identify all unpaid carers so that they can be vaccinated in line with JCVI advice.  

13. Paid carers come into our home daily to look after my child. Will they get priority access to the vaccine?

People who live and work in care homes and people who deliver care in the home, so paid carers, should have been offered the vaccine earlier the year.  

If you employ a personal assistant (PA) to directly to care for your clinically vulnerable child at home, contact the local authority who should be able to arrange for your PA to be vaccinated as a priority. We have heard that some families who receive direct payments to buy care for their disabled child have been able to register for vaccine by contacting your local authority direct payments team. 

Getting the vaccine

14. Is the vaccine safe and effective?

Studies show the Pfizer vaccine being used for first phase of the vaccination programme is safe and effective in people aged 16 and over, particularly older people. Read about the approved Pfizer vaccine. Studies show the Pfizer vaccine being used for first phase of the vaccination programme is safe and effective in people aged 16 and over, particularly older people. Read about the approved Pfizer vaccine. The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is also safe and effective and works well in people age under 55. Read about the approved Oxford vaccine.  You can read more about the Moderna vaccine. 

15. Will I get the same vaccine for the first and second dose?

People will get the same vaccine for their first and second dose. A new study is looking at what happens when patients get a different vaccine for their second dose. 

16. I heard the vaccine has side effects, should I be worried?

Millions of people have received a Covid-19 vaccine and reports of serious side effects, such as allergic reactions, are rare. No long-term complications have been reported. 

Most side effects are mild and should not last longer than a week. Side effects may include a sore arm where the needle went in, feeling tired or achy or a headache. Scientists continue to monitor the vaccine’s safety to identify any rare or long-term side effects and confirm that benefits of the vaccines outweigh the risks and are the best way to protect against Covid-19, save lives and prevent serious complications from the virus.  

The Medicines Health Care Regulatory Authority’s (MHRA) advice on extremely rare incidents of blood clots with lower platelets reported with the AstraZeneca vaccines concludes that the benefits of the vaccine continue to far outweigh any risks of getting Covid. But it advises careful consideration for people at higher risk because of their medical condition.  

JCVI has advised that it is preferable that adults aged under 30 without underlying health conditions are offered an alternative COVID-19 vaccine, if available locally. People who have had their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine should still get their second dose of Astra Zeneca unless they have experienced one of these very rare reactions. 

17. Can I have the Covid-19 and flu vaccines at the same time?

You are advised to leave at least seven days between getting the flu jab and the Covid-19 vaccine. Find out more about the flu jab for disabled children, young people, and carers

After you’ve had the vaccine

18. Will I be immune to Covid-19 after having the jab? 

No. Protection from any vaccine takes time to build up. In general, the older you are the longer it takes. Protection will take at least two weeks to build in younger people and at least three weeks in older people before you can expect to have a good antibody response. 

A single standard dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine is 76% effective at protecting you from serious Covid-19 infection for the first 90 days once the immune system has built this protection. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines showed slightly higher efficacy in the lab studies. To be properly protected, you must return when you are called for your second dose. 

There is a small chance you might still get coronavirus even if you have the vaccine. No vaccine offers 100% protection against any disease. This means it is important to continue to follow social distancing guidance

19. Can I do what I want after I have been vaccinated?

For now it is essential everyone continues to follow latest social distancing guidance whether vaccinated or not. Tens of millions of people need to be vaccinated. Hospital admissions and deaths from COVID are decreasing but people still are advised to continue to be cautious as restrictions are relaxed.  

20. Where can I find easy read materials about the Coronavirus vaccine?

Read the Mencap coronavirus vaccine easy read guide