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 Phase 1 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, household contacts of immunosuppressed adults, and adult carers
- 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.
Priority group 6 includes:
- Household contacts of immunosuppressed adults: Over 16s who live with adults with lowered immunity were added to the priority list on 29 March. 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.
- Adult carers: The government defines this as people who receive carer’s allowance, or people who are the main carer of an elderly or disabled person who is at increased risk of being seriously ill from COVID-19. It includes people who are the sole or primary carer of an elderly or disabled person who is clinically extremely vulnerable. If you think you, or someone who cares for you, is an adult carer but you (or they) don't receive carer's allowance, talk to your GP about whether or not you (or they) should be added to priority group 6. In Wales, you can register online if you are not already registered as an unpaid carer with your GP.
The government aims to have invited everybody in Phase 1 of the vaccination programme for their first dose of vaccine by 15 April.
In Phase 2 of the vaccination programme, vaccination is being prioritised as follows:
- People aged 40 to 49
- People aged 30 to 39
- People aged 18 to 29.
The government aims to have invited everybody in Phase 2 of the vaccination programme for their first dose of vaccine by 31 July.
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.
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 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.
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.
People will be automatically invited for vaccination based on the priority group they are in.
All clinically extremely vulnerable people (people on the shielding list) should now have been invited for at least one dose of vaccine.
- If you are clinically extremely vulnerable, you live in England, and you haven’t yet been offered an appointment to have your coronavirus vaccine, you can book directly online or by calling 119 (7am to 11pm).
- If you are clinically extremely vulnerable, you live in Northern Ireland, and your GP hasn't yet invited you for your coronavirus vaccine, you can book online for an appointment at a regional vaccination centre.
- If you are clinically extremely vulnerable, you live in Scotland, and you either haven’t received an invitation for your coronavirus vaccine or you have lost it, NHS Scotland has advice on who to contact. This varies depending on where you live.
- If you are clinically extremely vulnerable, 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.
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.
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
- The JCVI has advised that it is preferable for people under 30 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.
- There is limited data on how safe and effective the vaccines are for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. However, research so far has not shown any harmful effects of the vaccines in women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. 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 Astra Zeneca vaccine. For this reason, JCVI recommend that pregnant women should be offered the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines in preference to the Astra Zeneca vaccine. However, if you've already had a first dose of the Astra Zeneca 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 have the second dose between 3 and 12 weeks after your first dose.
You have the Oxford/Astra 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. Use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine has been halted in adults under the age of 30.
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.
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. Around 4 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: