The first ever Covid vaccine has been approved for use in the UK by the British regulator, the MHRA.
Immunisations could start early next week for people in some high-priority groups, with 800,000 doses arriving in the first batch.
When will I get a vaccine?
NHS staff and patients are likely to get the vaccine first because storage of the jab at freezing temperatures is easiest in hospitals.
When more doses are delivered, the first phase of the vaccination programme in the UK will start.
As part of this phase, the order of groups to be given the vaccine has been announced by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI):
- residents in a care home for older adults and their carers
- everyone aged 80 and over, and frontline health and social care workers
- everyone aged 75 and over
- everyone aged 70 and over, and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable
- everyone aged 65 and over
- people aged 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and death from Covid-19
- everyone aged 60 and over
- everyone aged 55 and over
- everyone aged 50 and over
These groups cover 90-99% of those at risk of dying from Covid-19, according to the JCVI.
The older you are, the higher your risk of becoming seriously ill or dying from the virus – and that risk rises sharply beyond 70. People with underlying health conditions are also vulnerable to the virus.
After these nine priority groups, there will be a second phase of vaccination for other groups in the population.
People will be vaccinated twice – 21 days apart – and immunity starts seven days after the second dose.
Where will I get a vaccine?
You’ll be invited to get a vaccine as soon as it’s your turn, probably by letter.
This could be through your GP surgery, a hospital or care home if you work there, or through vaccination hubs which are being set up around the country.
The NHS has been getting ready to start giving vaccines as soon as the first one is delivered to the UK.
It is recruiting 30,000 volunteers to help, some of whom will be trained to give the jabs.
Doses of the Pfizer vaccine need to be stored at a very cold temperature. This isn’t an issue with the Oxford one, which can be stored at normal fridge temperature.
Can I pay to be vaccinated sooner?
No – this vaccine is being rolled out free to people via the NHS.
You can’t jump the queue by paying for it, but there should be plenty of vaccine to go round.
Should I leave a gap between getting the flu and Covid vaccines?
If you’re eligible for a flu vaccine, you should get it as soon as possible, particularly if you will also be in a high-risk priority group for a Covid jab.
Having both infections at once this winter could be dangerous.
At its last meeting, the JCVI recommended leaving at least seven days between the vaccines.
Will the Covid vaccine be safe?
The UK regulator will not authorise any vaccine unless it believes it is safe.
The MHRA assesses all the data and also ensures a vaccine works and that all the necessary trials and checks have been completed.
- lab and clinical trial results
- manufacturing and quality controls
- product sampling
- testing of the final product
It is doing this as quickly as possible without cutting corners, because these vaccines are a priority.
It will also seek advice from another independent body, the Commission on Human Medicines, before advising the government on a potential vaccine.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the fastest ever to go from concept to reality.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca team is likely to do the same soon, and other vaccine developers will follow.
Companies have continually been sending trial data to the regulator, which has also shortened the process.
In the event the UK has a choice, the JCVI would decide which vaccine should be used for different groups of people.
Will everyone be vaccinated?
The eventual aim is that as many people as possible receive a Covid-19 vaccine.
If everyone over 18 in the UK is offered one, that would be more than 50 million people – a huge challenge.
There is no timeframe on this momentous task, but it’s clear that’s the long-term plan in 2021.
The NHS has plenty of experience delivering vaccines to huge numbers of people, for example this winter’s flu jab should reach 30 million.
A Covid vaccine won’t be compulsory though – no other vaccines in the UK are, and experts say this approach doesn’t help create confidence in the vaccine.
At present, the government has ordered seven different types of vaccine and expects to receive 355 million doses, including 100 million of the Oxford/AstraZeneca one.
If everyone needs two doses, that would certainly be enough for every adult in the UK.
Where is the vaccine made?
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which is the first to be approved in the UK, is being manufactured and distributed from Belgium.
The vaccine will have to travel in specially-designed dry ice packs which keep it at freezing temperatures of around-70C.
The first batch of 800,000 doses is expected to arrive in the UK in the coming days.