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.
The following are eligible for two doses of vaccination:
- young people aged 16 and 17 who are clinically extremely vulnerable or in an 'at risk' group
- children aged 12 to 15 with:
- severe neurodisabilities, Down’s syndrome, or multiple or severe learning disabilities
- blood cancer: this includes children aged 12 to 15 who have lymphoma
- sickle cell disease
- type 1 diabetes
- congenital heart disease
- other health conditions that increase their risk of becoming severely ill if they develop COVD-19
- 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.
In addition, all 12 to 17 year olds throughout the UK are also eligible for a first dose of vaccination. It is likely they will be offered a second dose at a later date, but the JCVI is still reviewing the evidence supporting this approach, including which vaccine to offer for second doses and the dosing interval to recommend.
People who had severely weakened immune systems at the time they had their first two doses of COVID-19 vaccine are eligible for a third dose to help improve their immune response to vaccination. This includes many people with lymphoma. We have more information about third doses of COVID-19 vaccination.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has confirmed that booster vaccinations will be offered to people at higher risk of becoming seriously ill due to COVID-19, to help keep their protection as high as possible. This is not the same as a third primary dose. Many people who are not eligible for a third primary dose are eligible for a booster.
People eligible for a booster dose include:
- people who live in residential care homes for older adults
- all adults aged 50 or above
- frontline health and social care workers
- people aged 16 to 49 years with underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk of severe COVID-19
- adults who live with someone with lowered immunity.
You can't have the booster until at least 6 months after your second primary dose. Boosters will be offered in the same priority order as the initial vaccination programme (based on age and underlying health conditions). The booster programme is starting in September. If you are eligible, the NHS will contact you when it is your turn to have your booster. You might have your booster at a community healthcare setting, a pharmacy or a vaccination centre.
Whichever vaccine you had for your first two doses, the JCVI recommends that most people should have either the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, or a half dose of the Moderna vaccine, for their booster. If you can't have either of these vaccines, you may be able to have the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.
The benefits of booster doses for younger people, who received their initial course of vaccination more recently, will be considered at a later date.
People over 12 who live with someone who is severely immunosuppressed are eligible for two doses of vaccine. This aims to reduce the risk of infection in immunosuppressed people by vaccinating those most likely to transmit to them.
- The NHS or GP practices should write to inform these people (or their parents or carers) that they are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccination.
If you live in Wales 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 household contacts:
Individuals who expect to share living accommodation on most days and therefore continuing close contact is unavoidable. The advice covers individuals aged 12 or over.
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 over 12s in the UK are now eligible for at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Most over 16s can get a vaccine dose at a walk-in vaccination centre without needing to book. Most 12 to 15 year olds will be vaccinated in school (with parental consent). Alternative provision will be made for children who don't attend school.
If you prefer (and are eligible) to book:
- Adults who live in England can book their vaccination online or by calling 119 (7am to 11pm).
- Adults who live in Northern Ireland can book their vaccination at a local pharmacy. You can book a pharmacy that stocks the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine (suitable for over 40s) or a pharmacy that stocks the Moderna vaccine (suitable for over 18s). Children aged 12 to 15 who have a letter from their consultant or GP confirming they are eligible can book a vaccination online or by calling 0300 200 7813 (8am to 8pm).
- Over 16s who live in Scotland can book their 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.
Third primary doses
If you are eligible for a third primary dose, you should be contacted by your GP or specialist.
If you are eligible for a booster dose, the NHS will contact you when it is your turn to have it.
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