Covid-19 vaccinations Q&A

April 2021

These questions and answers (Q&A) have been created to help all staff understand more about the COVID-19 vaccination programme. The Government have committed to giving everyone a vaccine who wants it but have obviously had to prioritise the rollout of the vaccines across the population.

Vaccinations are an important tool in tackling the spread and consequences of COVID-19 along with following the relevant guidance and COVID secure practice - *hands *face *space – both within and outside the workplace.

Vaccination information is available in lots of accessible formats and can be found on the Public Health England campaign resource centre web page
which includes BSL, Braille, Easy Read, LD and Autism, Large Print and multiple languages.

 

The vaccination programme is delivered through the JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisation) planning programme.

Firstly, the priority groups as part of phase 1 of the COVID-19 Vaccination roll out.  The phase 1 objective is to protect those most at risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19 and to support of the NHS and social care system.

  1. residents in a care home for older adults and their carers
  2. all those 80 years of age and over and frontline health and social care workers
  3. all those 75 years of age and over
  4. all those 70 years of age and over and individuals deemed clinically extremely vulnerable
  5. all those 65 years of age and over
  6. all individuals aged 16 years to 64 years with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality
  7. all those 60 years of age and over
  8. all those 55 years of age and over
  9. all those 50 years of age and over

The priority list is against an evidence base as to who is most at risk. It is estimated that taken together, these groups represent around 99% of preventable mortality from COVID-19.

We are now entering the second phase of the programme which will see extension of vaccination to those 50 years old and under.

Visit this web page for detailed guidance on the vaccine rollout.

 

As the vaccination programme progresses through the above priority groups you may be contacted by either your GP, your workplace manager or directly by the NHS.

Once you have had the vaccine, this isn't a ‘passport to freedom’. You must still follow the COVID-19 regulations and guidance. This is because although you will be much better protected from the virus, you might still be able to transmit or carry it, passing it on to others.

 

Three vaccinations have been authorised in the UK which are Pfizer/BioNTech, AstraZeneca and Moderna.

Your questions have been answered regarding the COVID-19 vaccination programme with the Pfizer/BioNTech, AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines:

Q. Is vaccination mandatory? 

A. No, it is not mandatory, but we would strongly advise you to consider being vaccinated. The aim of the vaccination programme phase 1 is to protect those at most risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19 and to support the NHS and social care system. COVID-19 vaccines should provide protection by preparing your immune system so that in the event of exposure to the virus, your immune system is more able to prevent or reduce the severity of infection.

 

Q. How do I know these vaccines are safe?

A. The vaccines have been reviewed and authorised by the MHRA (Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) – the body that regulates medicines, medical devices and blood components for transfusion in the UK.

The MHRA has ensured that these COVID-19 vaccines have met strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness and that they are safe to use.

 

Q. Is the AstraZeneca vaccine safe to have after the reports of blood clots in a very small number of people following this vaccine?

A. Yes, AstraZeneca is still a safe vaccine to have and the benefits of being vaccinated continue to outweigh the risks. Following reports of extremely rare events of concurrent blood clots (thrombosis) and low platelet counts (thrombocytopenia) in a very small number of people after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), the expert vaccination and immunisation advisory committee for the UK Health Department, have produced further guidance on 7th April and 7th of May 2021. The risk of such events is estimated to be very low at approximately 10.5 cases per million doses. As a precautionary approach, JCVI have advised that it is preferable for adults aged under 40, with no underlying health conditions that increase their risk of developing severe COVID-19 disease, be offered an alternative to the AstraZeneca vaccine, where available and does not cause significant delays in being vaccinated. In the absence of a suitable alternative, individuals who are under 40 years old should be offered the AstraZeneca vaccine and may choose to receive this vaccine. For individuals 40 years old or over, as well as, individuals with health conditions that put them at high risk of severe COVID-19, the benefits of being vaccinated with AstraZeneca outweigh the risk of these rare clotting events.

The majority of these very rare events occurred after the first dose. The advice from JCVI is that, irrespective of age, all those who have received a first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine should be offered a second dose of the same vaccine, unless contraindicated (for example severe allergy to the vaccine, such as anaphylaxis, or blood clot with low platelets)

 

Q. How much time can I have to attend my appointments?

A. This will depend on your workplace policies.  

 

Q. How will I be contacted and how will the vaccination programme know to contact me?

A. The method of communication or 'call to be vaccinated' will be different for different groups. For those people falling into priority groups 'by age', the cascade will be led by primary care providers e.g. GPs. 

 

Q. Why has there been a change to the timing of the second dose?

A. JCVI advises that vaccinating more people with their first dose should be prioritised above offering others their second dose to maximise the benefits of the vaccination programme in the short-term. Everyone will still receive their second dose within 12 weeks of their first to complete the course. The first dose of the vaccine offers considerable protection. The second dose optimises efficacy and is likely to be important for longer term protection.

For the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, the second dose can be offered between 3 to 12 weeks after the first dose.

For the AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines, the second dose can be offered between 4 to 12 weeks after the first dose.

 

Q. Can I get COVID-19 from these vaccines?

A. These vaccines cannot give you COVID-19 infection. The vaccines will reduce your chance of becoming infected or becoming seriously ill with COVID-19.

 

Q. Are the vaccines effective?

A. Yes, they are very effective vaccines. All three vaccines offer considerable protection after one dose. After your first dose, your body should build up protection (immunity) against COVID-19, particularly in the short term. The MHRA, JCVI and 4 Chief Medical Officers have agreed to delay the gap between the first and second doses of these vaccines to protect the greatest number of people in the shortest amount of time. Everyone will still receive their second dose within 12 weeks of their first which is likely to be important for longer term protection. We are still learning how long protection lasts for, and how vaccination will affect COVID-19 transmission. Additionally, like all vaccines, no vaccine is completely effective. Some people may still get COVID-19 despite being vaccinated, but vaccination should lessen the severity of infection.

 

Q. Is the vaccination the solution to COVID-19?

A. It is a very important part of the solution, but we do not see the effects immediately after the first dose. It is vital that we continue to follow the guidance, practice social distancing, hand washing and wear face coverings.

 

Q. What should I do after receiving the vaccination?

A. It is vital that we continue to follow all the control measures currently in place to help reduce the spread, this will help protect yourself as well as family and friends. The vaccine will offer considerable protection, but no vaccine is completely effective. Some people may still get COVID-19 despite being vaccinated, but vaccination should lessen the severity of infection.

 

Q. When will I receive the greatest protection?

A. Although the vaccination will offer considerable protection after the first dose, it is believed that the greatest protection will come up 12-14 days after the second dose. Highlighting the importance of maintaining social distance, continued use of face coverings and vigorous hand washing hygiene.

 

Q. I am pregnant, what does this mean for me?

A. On the 16th of April 2021, JCVI issued new guidance and now advise that pregnant women should be offered the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time as the rest of the population, based on their age and clinical risk group. JCVI have advised that it is preferable that Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, where available, be offered to pregnant women of any age. This is because there is more extensive experience of using these vaccines in pregnancy. There is no evidence to suggest that other vaccines are unsafe for pregnant women, but more data is required. It is recommended that the risks and benefits of vaccination are discussed with women who are pregnant.

Women who are planning pregnancy, are in the immediate postpartum period or are breastfeeding can be vaccinated with any vaccine according to their age and clinical risk group. There is an absence of full safety data for the vaccine in breastfeeding women or in infants who are breastfed. This is normal at this stage in new vaccine rollout and more evidence will be acquired over time. The benefits of breast-feeding are well known and mothers’ who breastfeed should be supported.

For those that have concerns about present or future fertility

Dr. Gayatri Amirthalingam is a consultant in the National Immunisation team at Public Health England. Watch this video where she explains that there are no concerns about the COVID-19 vaccines affecting present or future fertility providing important reassurance.

 

Q. What are the side effects of these vaccines?

A. The reported common side effects for these vaccines are similar to most vaccines for example pain, redness or swelling at the site of injection. Other common side-effects include tiredness, headaches, muscle and joint aches, feeling generally unwell, chills, fever, nausea, vomiting, enlarged lymph nodes which are generally mild to moderate and resolve within a few days of vaccination. However, not everyone has side-effects following vaccination.

As with all vaccines, there is a very small risk of an allergic reaction, including anaphylaxis, but the evidence so far shows that this is very rare.

There have recently been reports of extremely rare blood clots with low platelet counts following vaccination with AstraZeneca. These events are extremely rare with the risk being estimated at approximately 10.5 per million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine administered. The advice is to seek medical advice urgently if any of the following symptoms start from 4 days to 4 weeks after vaccination:

  • 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
  • An unusual headache that may be accompanied by:
  • blurred vision, nausea and vomiting
  • difficulty with speech
  • weakness, drowsiness or seizures
  • New, unexplained pinprick bruising or bleeding
  • Shortness of breath, chest pain, leg swelling or persistent abdominal pain

 

Q. What if I have allergies, which vaccine should I have?

A. You should check with your GP whether your allergy may affect which COVID-19 vaccine you are able to have. If you have had a serious allergic reaction (confirmed anaphylactic reaction) to a previous dose of the vaccine you are due to receive or to any components of the vaccine you are due to receive, you should not receive it. Alternatives should be considered. Everyone who receives these vaccines will be observed for a period of time (for example after receiving the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, it is recommended that individuals be monitored for 15 minutes after vaccination, and this period may be longer if a clinical assessment is indicated).

Note: MHRA has updated their guidance and now advises that individuals with a history of anaphylaxis to food, an identified drug or vaccine, or an insect sting can receive any of the three COVID-19 vaccines, as long as they are not known to be allergic to any component of the vaccine they are to receive.

 

The British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology (BSACI) has advised that individuals with a history of immediate onset-anaphylaxis to multiple classes of drugs or an unexplained anaphylaxis should not be vaccinated with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, except on expert advice of an allergy specialist. The AstraZeneca vaccine can be used as an alternative (if appropriate).

 

Q. Do the vaccines contain any animal products?

A.  No, none of the vaccines contains animal products.  

 

Q.  If I am immunosuppressed, can I still have these vaccines? 

A.  Yes, but individuals who have immunosuppression and HIV infection may not make a full antibody response so they should be advised to continue to follow recommendations to minimise their chance of exposure and risk of infection.

 

You can also visit this web page for further information.

 

 

 

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