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 2020. This is called ChAdOx1-S, developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca (sometimes called 'the Oxford vaccine' or 'the AstraZeneca vaccine').
A third vaccine was approved for use in the UK on 8th January 2021. This is called mRNA-1273, developed by Moderna.
Another vaccine was approved for use in the UK on 28th May 2021. This is called Ad26.COV2-S, developed by Janssen. It is a single-dose COVID-19 vaccine.
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.
All adults throughout the UK are now eligible for vaccination, as well as over 16s who are either clinically extremely vulnerable themselves or who live with someone who has lowered immunity. This includes over 16s who live with adults who have (or have had) lymphoma. If you have lymphoma and you are on the clinically extremely vulnerable list, your GP should contact you to let you know that any over-16s you live with are now eligible for vaccination. They can then book their vaccine through their own GP. They will need to provide proof that they live at the same address as you.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has recommended expanding the vaccination programme to include:
- children aged 12 to 15 with severe neurodisabilities, Down’s syndrome, immunosuppression and multiple or severe learning disabilities (16 and 17-year-olds in these groups should already have been offered their vaccinations)
- children aged 12 to 17 who live with someone who is immunosuppressed
- young people who are due to turn 18 in the next 3 months.
Nobody from these groups needs to come forward yet - the NHS will get in touch with eligible people when it is their turn to be vaccinated. If you think you child is eligible for vaccination and you have not been contacted by the end of August, contact your GP.
Booster vaccinations will be offered in Phase 3 of the vaccination programme. The provisional plan – which might change as the government continues to review the evidence – is that boosters will be rolled out on two stages.
Stage 1 (expected from September onwards)
- People aged 16 and over who have lowered immunity
- People living in residential care homes for older adults
- Adults aged 70 and over
- Clinically extremely vulnerable people aged 16 and over
- Frontline health and social care workers
Stage 2 (once Stage 1 is complete)
- People aged 50 and over
- People aged 16 to 49 who usually receive the flu vaccine
- Adults who live with someone with lowered immunity
Initial plans are to offer the COVID-19 booster at the same time as the annual flu vaccine.
Priority group 6 includes adult household contacts of immunosuppressed individuals. The JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation) recommendation to vaccinate adult household contacts aims to reduce the risk of infection in the immunosuppressed by vaccinating those most likely to transmit to them.
- GP practices will identify those who are severely immunosuppressed.
- GP practices should write to inform these people that their adult household contacts are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccination.
- The letter from the GP asks severely immunosuppressed individuals to let their household contacts know that they are eligible for vaccination and that they could contact their registered GP practice.
- Household contacts will use the letter, together with their own proof of address, which must match that of the immunosuppressed individual, to provide evidence of eligibility for vaccination. This will be requested on arrival for their vaccination appointment.
If you live in Wales, you are 16 or over and you are a household contact of a severely immunosuppressed person, you can complete a self-referral form to register for vaccination.
Severely immunosuppressed individuals include, but are not limited to:
- anyone with a history of haematological malignancy, and those who may require long term immunosuppressive treatments.
- individuals who are receiving immunosuppressive or immunomodulating biological therapy and individuals treated with steroid sparing agents
- individuals treated with or likely to be treated with systemic steroids for more than a month at a dose equivalent of prednisolone at 20mg or more per day for adults.
Definition of adult household contacts:
Individuals who expect to share living accommodation on most days and therefore continuing close contact is unavoidable. The advice covers individuals aged 16 or over only. Those household contacts aged 16-17 years old will need to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. Children are excluded.
Members of 'bubbles' that do not live with an immunosuppressed person for the majority of the week are excluded from the definition.
Some people with lymphoma have lowered immunity and might not respond as well as other people to vaccination. At the moment, there is not much information on how well people with lowered immunity respond to the COVID-19 vaccines. Early results suggest that people with lymphoma have a lower antibody response to vaccination than healthy people, but it isn't clear yet how this affects their protection against the virus. We have more information in our article on how effective COVID-19 vaccination is in people with lymphoma.
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.
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). 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.
All adults in the UK are now eligible for vaccination.
- If you live in England, you can book your vaccination online or by calling 119 (7am to 11pm).
- If you live in Northern Ireland, you can book your vaccination online or by calling 0300 200 7813 (8am to 8pm).
- If you live in Scotland, you can book your vaccination online or by calling 0800 030 8013 (8am to 8pm).
- If you live in Wales and you haven’t yet been contacted about your coronavirus vaccine, the Welsh government has advice on who to contact. This varies depending on where you live.
Your booking 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.
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 or booster 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.
- The AztraZeneca vaccine should not be given to people who:
- have ever had a condition called heparin-induced thrombocytopenia and thrombosis (low platelets and blood clot caused by an immune response to the blood-thinning drug heparin)
- have ever had a rare condition called capillary leak syndrome (where the liquid part of your blood, without the blood cells, leaks out of your blood vessels and into your tissues)
- had a blood clot and low platelets after their first dose of AstraZeneca.
- The JCVI has advised that it is preferable for people under 40 to have a vaccine other than Oxford/AstraZeneca. If you have already had a first dose of AZ vaccine without suffering any serious side effects you should complete the course. The JCVI has not yet issued advice on the use of the Janssen Ad26.COV2-S vaccine in this age group.
- Research so far has not shown any harmful effects of the vaccines in women who are pregnant. The JCVI recommends that pregnant women should be offered vaccination at the same time as other people in their age group. There is more data available on the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in pregnant women than on the AstraZeneca vaccine. For this reason, JCVI recommend that pregnant women should be offered the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines in preference to the AstraZeneca vaccine. However, if you've already had a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, you can have the second dose. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, talk to your doctor about the possible risks and benefits of being vaccinated against COVID-19.
You have the Pfizer/BioNTech BNT162b2 vaccine as an injection into your upper arm. You have two doses. You usually have the second dose between 8 and 12 weeks after your first dose, although it might be given after 3 weeks if you are due to start treatment that is expected to lower your immune system.
You have the Oxford/AstraZeneca ChAdOx1-S vaccine as an injection into your upper arm. You have two doses. You usually have the second dose between 8 and 12 weeks after your first dose, although it might be given after 4 weeks if you are due to start treatment that is expected to lower your immune system.
You have the Moderna mRNA-1273 vaccine as an injection into your upper arm. You have two doses. You usually have the second dose between 8 and 12 weeks after your first dose, although it might be given after 4 weeks if you are due to start treatment that is expected to lower your immune system.
You have the Janssen Ad26.COV2-S vaccine as an injection into your upper arm. You have one dose only.
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.
A very rare condition involving blood clots and unusual bleeding after vaccination has been identified in people shortly after the first dose of the AstraZeneca (AZ) vaccine. This has also been seen very rarely in people who have had the Janssen Ad26.COV2-S vaccine. Around 15 people develop this condition for every million doses of AZ vaccine doses given. This is seen slightly more often in younger people. If you experience any of the following around 4 days to 4 weeks after vaccination, you should seed medical advice urgently:
- a new, severe headache which is not helped by usual painkillers or is getting worse
- a headache which seems worse when lying down or bending over or
- an unusual headache that may be accompanied by:
- blurred vision, nausea and vomiting
- difficulty with your speech
- weakness, drowsiness or seizures
- new, unexplained pinprick bruising or bleeding
- shortness of breath, chest pain, leg swelling or persistent abdominal pain.
Each nation is updating information on the coronavirus vaccination programme as more details are confirmed:
- England (this includes information in an Easy Read format and British Sign Language resources)
- Northern Ireland
The NHS website also has information.
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:
- Pfizer/BioNTech BNT162b2 vaccine
- Oxford/AstraZeneca ChAdOx1-S vaccine
- Moderna mRNA-1273 vaccine
- Janssen Ad26.COV2-S vaccine