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.

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 was approved for use in the first phase of the Covid-19 vaccination programme. It contains no animal products or egg.

The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines has also received UK regulatory approval and is made of a weakened and modified version of the common cold virus from chimpanzees.

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

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

The MHRA has also confirmed that the Oxford/AstraZeneca and Pfizer Covid-19 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 is now recommending that as many people as possible on the priority list should get 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.

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 dose. 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?

Right now, the government is vaccinating adults in priority groups 1-4. They are aiming to complete this by mid-February.

Groups 1-4 include people aged 65 and over, care home residents and staff, people aged 16 and over who are extremely clinically extremely vulnerable and front-line heath and social care staff.

The second phase will move on to priority groups 1-9, including vulnerable people aged 16 and over with underlying health conditions, unpaid carers (priority group 6) and everyone aged 50 and over. Carers and people with underlying health conditions are in priority group 6.

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 now. We have heard of some instances where local authorities are helping to arrange for parent-carers to get the vaccine in these circumstances.

The NHS vaccination programme is making good progress. More people will be offered the vaccine in future. The order people will be offered the vaccine 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 children with rare conditions to be prioritised – support the campaign. 

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. Do not contact the NHS for a vaccination before then.

Once you have received your letter, 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 your GP surgery when it is available there or 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.v

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 will only be offered to children at high risk of Covid-19 exposure who are likely to get extremely sick if they get catch it, for example older children with severe neuro-disabilities in residential care. Even then, doctors will discuss the risks and benefits with their parents because the vaccine is not licensed for under-16.

We expect the government to publish more guidance on vaccinating children as the programme gets underway and more types of vaccine become available. If you are worried, contact your child’s paediatrician to ask if they think your child needs and would benefit from the vaccine.

The Pfizer vaccine is licensed for use in people aged 16 and over.

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

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 vaccine alongside people aged 70 to 74 years old. 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.

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

The expert committee has advised our government to vaccinate people aged 65 and over with underlying health conditions first. Their advice is then to offer the vaccine to clinically at-risk groups aged 16 and over. ‘At risk’ groups include 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.  

We will update this page when we have more information. 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 – 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 now in priority group 6: (see Table 3 of the green Book

GPs and the NHS this week (13 Feb 2021) got the green light to start inviting people in priority groups five and six to their vaccine. This NHS letter went out to local vaccination sites, pharmacies and local GPs. It provides information on how carers, including young carers aged 16 and 17, and other people in groups 5 and 6 will 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 within a practice.

Parents should ask for their GP to mark their record with a ‘carers flag’ otherwise they may not get an invitation when their turn arrives. 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 now. Local authorities are also helping to arrange for parent carers to get the vaccine via carers assessments and other services so it’s also worth contact that team too.

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. 

We have also written to the government minister in charge of vaccines to call for the vaccine delivery plan to be republished to include unpaid carers. We will update this page when more information becomes available.

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

The vaccine is currently being offered to people who live and work in care homes and people who deliver care in the home, so paid carers should have early access to the vaccine. Care workers for older people will be vaccinated first.

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 vaccineYou can read more about the recenty approved Moderna vaccine here.

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. There are currently no current plans to change this. 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?

Several 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 risks because of their medical condition. 

JCVI has advised that it is preferable for 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 Oxford/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. You must also 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 stay at home whether they have had the vaccine or not. Ten of millions of people need to be vaccinated. The government needs evidence that Covid-19 cases are decreasing and more data on transmission before restrictions can be relaxed.

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

Read the Mencap coronavirus vaccine easy read guide.