The UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) approved the first coronavirus vaccine for use in the UK on 2nd December. The vaccine is called BNT162b2, developed by BioNTech and Pfizer.
A second vaccine was approved for use in the UK on 30th December. This is called ChAdOx1-S, developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca (sometimes called 'the Oxford vaccine').
A third vaccine was approved for use in the UK on 8th January. This is called mRNA-1273, developed by Moderna.
All of these vaccines give very high protection against severe COVID-19. They have been through a rigorous approval process to make sure they are safe and effective.
To begin with, people who are at the highest risk of severe illness or death due to COVID-19 will be prioritised. In the first phase of the vaccination programme, the priority groups are as follows:
- Staff and residents of care homes for older people
- People 80 and over, and frontline health and social care workers
- People 75 and over
- People 70 and over, and clinically extremely vulnerable people 16 and over (this includes many people who have or have had lymphoma)
- People 65 and over
- People aged 16 to 64 who are in an 'at risk' group
- People 60 and over
- People 55 and over
- People 50 and over.
If you are not on the clinically extremely vulnerable list but you think you should be, contact your GP or medical team. They can add you to the list if appropriate, to make sure you are invited to have your vaccine with the right priority group.
As the programme continues, the expert committee that advises the UK health department about vaccination will decide on how to prioritise rollout of the vaccine to people aged between 16 and 50. They will base their decisions on the latest scientific information about the vaccine.
At the moment, there is no information on whether being vaccinated prevents people from transmitting coronavirus. This is being studied.
Some people with lymphoma have lowered immunity and might not respond as well as other people to vaccination. At the moment, there isn't any information on how well people with lowered immunity respond to the COVID-19 vaccines. However, there are no particular safety concerns about using the vaccines in people with lowered immunity. The vaccines are not able to replicate and cannot cause infections. The government recommends that people who are at higher risk of becoming seriously ill due to COVID-19 should have the vaccine when it is offered to them. This includes people affected by lymphoma. The government advises that the vaccines are suitable for all priority groups.
Watch our recent webinar where a panel of experts answered questions about COVID-19 vaccination in people affected by lymphoma
A consensus of UK lymphoma specialists also recommend that all patients with lymphoma should receive a non-replicating COVID-19 vaccine, unless there are particular reasons they can't have it (for example, if they've had serious allergic reactions in the past, or they are pregnant or breastfeeding). The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, Oxford/AztraZeneca vaccine and Moderna vaccine are all non-replicating. These vaccines might not achieve full protection for people who have lowered immunity, and vaccination of close contacts when available is also likely to be beneficial.
If possible, you should complete both doses of the vaccine at least 2 weeks before you have treatment that lowers your immune system. If you are already on treatment that lowers your immune system, ask your specialist about the risks and benefits of having the vaccine or delaying it until your immune system is stronger. They can offer you advice based on your individual circumstances and immune status.
After having the vaccine, it is important to carry on taking appropriate measures to reduce your risk of infection. If shielding measures are recommended where you live, you are advised to continue shielding even after you've been vaccinated.
The expert committee that developed the priority list considered including people who live with or care for people with lowered immune systems for priority vaccination. However, at the moment, there is no scientific evidence that this protects vulnerable people from infection. Other priority groups could be added in the next phase of vaccination if more evidence becomes available.
You don't need to contact your doctor or pharmacist to ask for a vaccination. People will be automatically invited for vaccination based on the priority group they are in. The invitation should include details of where you can have your vaccination. This might be at a hospital, a community healthcare setting, or a vaccination centre. All settings providing vaccination are COVID-safe.
If you're invited to have your vaccination at a larger vaccination centre or pharmacy, you can either book your appointment straightaway, or wait to be invited to an NHS service closer to your home.
The government hopes that all clinically extremely vulnerable people will have been invited for at least one dose of vaccine by mid-February, although this could change. While you are waiting to have your vaccination, and afterwards, it is important to keep taking appropriate measures to reduce your risk of being exposed to coronavirus.
People who are added to the 'clinically extremely vulnerable' list should be added to the priority group for vaccination automatically.
If you think you should be on the clinically extremely vulnerable list and you have not received a letter about it, you should discuss it with your GP or medical team.
The safety profiles of the vaccines are very favourable. They are suitable for nearly everybody.
- The vaccines can't be given to people who are allergic to any of their ingredients.
- Originally, vaccination was not recommended for people who had previously had a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to any food or medicine, but this advice has been updated.
- There is limited data on how safe and effective the vaccines are for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Laboratory research has not shown any harmful effects, but the vaccines have not been studied in pregnant or breastfeeding women. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, talk to your doctor about the possible risks and benefits of being vaccinated against COVID-19. The government has also produced information about COVID-19 vaccination for pregnant or breastfeeding women.
You have the Pfizer/BioNTech BNT162b2 vaccine as an injection into your upper arm. You have two doses. You have the second dose between 3 and 12 weeks after your first dose.
You have the Oxford/Aztra Zeneca ChAdOx1-S vaccine as an injection into your upper arm. You have two doses. You have the second dose between 4 and 12 weeks after your first dose.
You have the Moderna mRNA-1273 vaccine as an injection into your upper arm. You have two doses. You have the second dose at least 4 weeks after your first dose.
Initially, the government recommended giving the second dose of BNT162b2 around 3 weeks after the first dose. This guidance has changed because the first dose of vaccine generally provides significant protection within 2 to 3 weeks. Delaying the second dose means that more people can have their first dose. This will protect as many people as possible as quickly as possible. The updated guidance recommends having your second dose within 12 weeks of your first dose.
The main side effects of the vaccines are pain and redness where the injection went in; muscle aches; headache; fatigue; and mild fever. These typically last a day or so. Occasionally, people develop swollen lymph nodes a few days after having the injection. The swelling usually goes down within around 2 weeks. Some people who have the Moderna mRNA-1273 might feel sick or be sick.
Each nation is updating information on the coronavirus vaccination programme as more details are confirmed:
The NHS website also has information.
You might find it helpful to read our page on Q&As on the COVID-19 vaccine, prepared by the Department of Health and Social Care. The government in England has produced a leaflet about COVID-19 vaccination, including information on who should have it.
Public Health Wales have also produced answers to frequently asked questions. Public Health Northern Ireland have also produced a list of questions and answers on the vaccination programme.
If you'd like to know more, you can also download patient information leaflets for the vaccines: