COVID-19 Vaccination Programme questions and answers

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Information on where to get a vaccine is available here.

Table of Contents

  1. COVID-19 vaccine booster programme
  2. 1. What is the COVID-19 booster programme?
  3. 2. Where can I get my vaccine?
  4. 3. Which vaccine will be administered during the COVID-19 booster vaccination programme?
  5. 4. Can I choose which vaccine I get for my booster? What if it’s different from my first course of vaccines?
  6. 5. The JCVI guidance on boosters positions the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine ahead of the Moderna vaccine, does that mean Moderna is second choice?
  7. 6. Why is the JCVI recommending a half dose of Moderna?
  8. 7. The JCVI has recommended mRNA vaccines as a booster dose – what does this mean for people who can’t have mRNA vaccines?
  9. About the vaccine
  10. 8. Why are vaccines important?
  11. 9. What vaccines are available?
  12. 10. Will the vaccine be compulsory?
  13. 11. Are there any precautions I need to take before or after I receive the vaccine?
  14. 12. Which vaccine will I get?
  15. 13. Is one vaccine better than another?
  16. 14. Can I choose which vaccine I receive?
  17. 15. Is it a live vaccine?
  18. 16. Who can get the vaccine?
  19. 17. What if I’m under 18 years old and have received my vaccine within 12 weeks of a prior infection?
  20. 18. Have under 18s who have already received their vaccine been put at risk?
  21. 19. Should I cancel my appointment if it has already been booked for less than 12 weeks after my recent COVID-19 infection?
  22. 20. The Green Book says an interval shorter than 12 weeks after infection for those aged 16-17 who are not in an at risk group, may increase the chance of side effects – what does this mean?
  23. 21. If my child had a COVID-19 vaccine sooner than 12 weeks after confirmed infection, what signs and symptoms should I look for? How long is the period after vaccine I should worry for?
  24. 22. Are there any people who can’t have the vaccine?
  25. 23. I’ve had COVID-19 already/tested positive for antibodies, do I need to be vaccinated?
  26. 24. Will other measures (social distancing/face coverings/restrictions) still apply to me if I’ve had the vaccine?
  27. 25. How can I get proof of vaccination/a vaccine passport?
  28. 26. What about treatments, are there effective ways to treat COVID?
  29. 27. How effective is the first vaccine injection without getting the second one? 
  30. 28. Have the vaccines been tested in people over 80 years old or just in younger populations?
  31. 29. If I receive a RNA-based vaccine, can it tamper with my DNA?
  32. 30. Can I still spread the virus to others if I am vaccinated?
  33. 31. If a person has received the vaccination and is subsequently notified that they have been in direct contact with a positive case - are they still required to isolate?
  34. 32. Is there gluten in the vaccine as I am coeliac?
  35. 33. Can the COVID-19 vaccine lead to people having a positive COVID-19 nose or throat swab test?
  36. 34. How long is the course? How many injections and over what period of time?
  37. 35. How long do I have to wait between the first and second doses of the vaccine?
  38. 36. What happens if I don’t go for my second appointment?
  39. 37. How long do I have to wait after getting the vaccine before I can leave the clinic?
  40. Safety and effectiveness of the vaccine
  41. 38. Will the vaccine fully protect me against COVID-19?
  42. 39. If I have the vaccine may I be immune for life? Can I still catch COVID-19 after I’ve been immunised?
  43. 40. Has the vaccine been rushed? Is it safe?
  44. 41. I have a health condition/allergy. Can I still get the vaccine?
  45. 42. Do I have to wait after getting the flu vaccine before I can get the COVID-19 vaccine?
  46. 43. Can I get the vaccine if I’m pregnant or breast feeding?
  47. 44. I’ve heard the COVID-19 vaccination can affect your chances of getting pregnant or cause infertility?
  48. 45. I am currently going through or planning to go through IVF. Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine?
  49. 46. I have had my first vaccine and am now pregnant.  Should I get my second dose vaccination?
  50. 47. Can COVID-19 vaccination cause changes to my period or abnormal vaginal bleeding?
  51. 48. What happens if I experience side effects/adverse or unexpected events, how do I report it? 
  52. 49. What’s in the vaccines?
  53. 50. Do the vaccines have any ingredients which are unsuitable for religious groups?
  54. 51. Do they have ingredients which are unsuitable for vegans?
  55. 52. Do they have any ingredients which are unsuitable for those with allergies?
  56. 53. I am a transplant recipient/I am on the transplant waiting list, how can I find out information about the vaccine specific to my clinical situation?
  57. 54. Does drinking alcohol impact on how effective the COVID-19 vaccine is?
  58. 55. I am a member of the Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) community, should I have the COVID-19 vaccine?
  59. 56. Can children get the COVID-19 vaccine?
  60. 57. I have a condition that puts me at increased risk of bleeding or I am on blood thinners/anticoagulants. Can I get the vaccine?
  61. 58. I have a clotting disorder. Can I get the vaccine?
  62. 59. I have heard that there are COVID-19 vaccination scams. How do I know if an email/phone call or text is genuine?
  63. 60. I think I have received a phone call/email/text inviting me to book my COVID-19 vaccine that is a scam, what should I do?

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COVID-19 vaccine booster programme

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1. What is the COVID-19 booster programme?

With increasing levels of social mixing and close social contact, it is expected that during winter 2021 to 2022 COVID-19 will co-circulate alongside other respiratory viruses, including seasonal influenza virus. Furthermore, in light of the emergence of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) have made announcement on 29/11/21, stating that all individuals who are over 18 will now be eligible for a booster dose.

The booster will be offered in order of descending age groups, with priority given to the vaccination of older adults and those in a COVID-19 at-risk group. In response to the changing risk posed by the Omicron variant, the booster will now be given no sooner than 3 months after the primary course.

In addition the following groups are also eligible:

  • people aged 16 and over with a health condition that puts them at high risk of getting seriously ill from COVID-19 (as set out in the Green Book);
  • carers aged 16 and over;
  • people aged 16 and over who live with someone who is more likely to get infections (such as someone who has HIV, has had a transplant or is having certain treatments for cancer, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis).

Women who are pregnant who are over 18 or are in one of the eligible groups above can also get a booster dose.

For full JCVI statements please see here.

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2. Where can I get my vaccine?

If you're aged 18 or over, you can receive the COVID-19 vaccination at mobile walk-in vaccination clinics or community pharmacies across Northern Ireland. Those under 18 years of age can receive a vaccine at a mobile clinic.

For more information on where you can attend to have your COVID-19 vaccine (either first, second or booster doses) and for details how to book your appointment, please see: www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/get-covid-19-vaccination-northern-ireland

For information on getting your COVID-19 Primary or Booster vaccinations at a participating community pharmacy, please visit Community Pharmacy Vaccinations - HSCB (hscni.net)

 

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3. Which vaccine will be administered during the COVID-19 booster vaccination programme?

Those eligible will be offered a booster dose of either the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine or Moderna vaccine.

If for any reason you are not able to have one of those vaccines, you will be offered a dose of AstraZeneca (if you received this vaccine in your primary course).

All of these vaccines are safe and highly effective, and the NHS will ensure you are offered a vaccine suitable for you.

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4. Can I choose which vaccine I get for my booster? What if it’s different from my first course of vaccines?

Following a thorough review of all available data, the JCVI have advised that persons eligible for booster vaccines, irrespective of the product used in the primary vaccine course, should receive either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, because this provides the strongest immune response. If the Moderna vaccine is used, a half dose will be given which should result in less side effects compared with the full dose, while still providing high levels of protection.

In people who have a contraindication to mRNA vaccines and who received the AstraZeneca in their primary vaccine course, the AstraZeneca vaccine can be used as an alternative for their booster.

For further details see: www.gov.uk/government/publications/jcvi-statement-september-2021-covid-19-booster-vaccine-programme-for-winter-2021-to-2022/jcvi-statement-regarding-a-covid-19-booster-vaccine-programme-for-winter-2021-to-2022

www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-the-green-book-chapter-14a?UNLID=77515242320211216160

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5. The JCVI guidance on boosters positions the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine ahead of the Moderna vaccine, does that mean Moderna is second choice?

Both vaccines are safe and very effective and provide high levels of protection.

The JCVI said people should be offered Pfizer/BioNTech or alternatively Moderna, they did not say one was better than the other. They are both extremely effective vaccines made in a similar way from mRNA technology.

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6. Why is the JCVI recommending a half dose of Moderna?

JCVI has reviewed the latest epidemiology of COVID-19 in the UK, mathematical modelling, data on vaccine safety and vaccine effectiveness, and data from trials undertaken to understand the immunological impact of booster vaccinations.

Data from the COV-BOOST trial indicate that booster doses of COVID-19 vaccines are generally well tolerated and provide a substantial increase in vaccine-induced immune responses. In particular, mRNA vaccines (Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna) provide a strong booster effect. These results are consistent with those from other studies that examined the effect of half dose Moderna vaccine following primary courses of full or half doses of Moderna vaccination. A half dose of Moderna vaccine is advised over a full dose due to the levels of reactogenicity seen following boosting with a full dose within the COV-BOOST trial.

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Where mRNA vaccines cannot be offered e.g. due to contraindication, vaccination with the AstraZeneca vaccine may be considered for those who received AstraZeneca vaccine in their primary course.

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About the vaccine

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8. Why are vaccines important?

Vaccines teach your immune system how to protect you from diseases. It's much safer for your immune system to learn this through vaccination than by catching the diseases and attempting to treat them. Vaccines also produce a much stronger response from our immune system when compared to the response seen after COVID-19 infection alone.

Vaccines can reduce or even eradicate some diseases, if enough of the population are vaccinated. Since vaccines were introduced, diseases like smallpox and polio that used to kill or disable millions of people are no longer present in the UK.

The long term response to the pandemic requires a safe and effective vaccine to be available for all who need it. It’s a way to keep you, your friends and family safe

To be eligible to be vaccinated as part of the Northern Ireland vaccination programme you have to be registered with a GP in Northern Ireland and aged 12 years and over.

If you are not registered with a GP in Northern Ireland but live here or are temporally a resident in Northern Ireland, you should contact the Department of Health on COVID-19VaccinationProgramme@health-ni.gov.uk  and they will advise you how you can be vaccinated.

Further information on the COVID-19 vaccination programme in Northern Ireland can be found here.

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9. What vaccines are available?

Three vaccines have been approved for use in the UK:

Following the latest advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) it is preferable if people aged under 40 receive an alternative to the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) are the independent experts who advise the government on which vaccine/s the UK should use and provide advice on order of priority for vaccination.

Other vaccines are also being developed; they will only become available once they have been thoroughly tested to make sure they are safe and effective.

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10. Will the vaccine be compulsory?

Northern Ireland operates a system of informed consent for vaccinations.

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11. Are there any precautions I need to take before or after I receive the vaccine?

You should follow existing advice to reduce the spread of COVID-19 as this will enable you to avoid becoming ill with COVID-19 or other respiratory illnesses, before and after vaccination. Wear a face covering when attending the Vaccine Clinic. Your vaccinator will provide advice on how long you need to wait after the vaccine before going home and any other important information. Don’t forget to bring your photo ID when attending for your vaccination.

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12. Which vaccine will I get?

You will be offered a vaccine which has been approved by the independent Medicines and Healthcare Products Authority (MHRA) as safe and effective and recommended by the JCVI for persons of your age or risk group.

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13. Is one vaccine better than another?

Each candidate vaccine will have completed a full programme of research, including considerations of vaccine efficacy and safety. Each vaccine will be reviewed by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Authority (MHRA) which will grant approval and licencing of vaccines if they meet the required effectiveness and safety requirements. The safety and effectiveness of all vaccines in use are continually monitored.  

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14. Can I choose which vaccine I receive?

For details regarding the vaccination role out, including who can get vaccinated where,, please see the following links including statements from the Northern Ireland Department of Health:

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15. Is it a live vaccine?

None of the COVID-19 vaccines currently approved for use in the UK are live vaccines. They are therefore suitable to use in people who are immunosuppressed, although their immune system may not respond as well and other measures to reduce risk will need to continue to be observed.

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16. Who can get the vaccine?

Everyone over the age of 12 years old is now eligible for COVID-19 vaccination. For more information on where you can get vaccinated (which can differ depending on your age and/or other risk group), see the following link:

16-17 year olds:

From the 31 July 2021, everyone aged 16 and over not in at risk groups has been eligible for COVID-19 vaccination.

Previously the JCVI advised that 16 and 17 year olds should be offered a first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. As of 15/11/2021, the JCVI have recommended that 16 and 17 year olds should be offered a second vaccination dose.

For individuals who are 16 or 17 who have had a previous COVID-19 infection and a first dose of vaccine, the second vaccine dose should be given 12 weeks or more following the first vaccine dose, or 12 weeks following a positive PCR test, whichever is later.

To summarise, 16-17 year olds should receive the following vaccination schedule:

  • Young persons with underlying health condition (as set out in the Green Book), those who live with an immunosuppressed person or those who work in health and social care: 2 vaccine doses, at least 8 weeks apart
  • Young persons with no underlying health conditions, not living with an immunosuppressed person, nor working in health and social care: 2 vaccine doses, 12 weeks apart. This time interval may be shorted to 8 weeks in periods of high number of cases or where there was a concern about the effectiveness of vaccines, caused by a new variant for example.
  • As per new JCVI guidance, any young persons should receive their vaccine doses a minimum of 12 weeks after any COVID-19 infection. In addition to this, any young person over the age of 12 years old who is severely immunosuppressed (see Green Book for further details) will require a third primary dose.

Boosters in 16-17year olds:

Anyone aged 16 years and over who has an underlying condition (as set out in the Green Book) which puts them at greater risk of severe COVID-19 and/or are a frontline health and social care worker, should be offered a booster vaccination six months after completion of their primary course.

COVID-19 vaccination in children and young people aged 16 to 17 years: JCVI statement, November 2021 - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

12-15 year olds:

On the 14 September 2021 it was announced that all children aged 12-15 years would also be offered a first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine as part of a school-based programme. Parental consent should be sought prior to vaccination.

Children aged between 12-15 years who have an underlying health condition as defined by the JCVI, or those living with an immunosuppressed person (with a corresponding letter confirming this from their GP or Trust) will receive two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, 8 weeks apart. ‘At Risk’ groups include chronic respiratory disease, chronic heart conditions, chronic conditions of the kidney, liver or digestive system, chronic neurological disease, endocrine disorders, immunosuppression, asplenia or dysfunction of the spleen and Serious genetic abnormalities that affect a number of systems.

On 29th November 2021, the JCVI recommended that children aged 12-15 years with no underling health conditions should be offered a second dose of COVID vaccine 12 weeks after their first dose. This time interval may be shorted to 8 weeks in periods of high number of cases or where there was a concern about the effectiveness of vaccines, caused by a new variant for example.

To summarise, 12-15 year olds should receive the following vaccination schedule:

  • Young persons with underlying health condition(as set out in the Green Book) or those living with an immunosuppressed person: 2 doses, 8 weeks apart
  • Young persons with no underlying health conditions: 2 doses, 12 weeks apart.

As per new JCVI guidance, any young persons should receive their vaccine doses a minimum of 12 weeks after any COVID-19 infection

In addition to this, any young person over the age of 12 years old who is severely immunosuppressed (see Green Book for further details) will require a third primary dose.

The JCVI statement on vaccination of children ages 12-15 and a full list of medical conditions for this age group which would make an individual ‘at risk’ can be found here.

The vaccination programme for this age group will be predominantly delivered in schools. Alternative provision will be made for those who are home schooled or in secure services.

There are very few individuals who cannot receive any of the COVID-19 vaccines authorised in the UK (see details of this in question 12). Where there is doubt, rather than withholding vaccination, appropriate advice should be sought from the relevant specialist, or from the local immunisation or health protection team, to allow individuals to make an informed decision.

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17. What if I’m under 18 years old and have received my vaccine within 12 weeks of a prior infection?

Anyone under 18 who has received their vaccine within 12 weeks of a previous COVID-19 infection, is highly unlikely to experience any detrimental side effects. Potential side effects are very rare and would occur within a few days after vaccination. You should follow guidance in the vaccination leaflet, following your vaccine & if you are concerned you should contact a healthcare professional. Side effects can be reported at:

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18. Have under 18s who have already received their vaccine been put at risk?

The COVID-19 vaccines are very safe. The update in guidance (discussed in FAQ no.16), is implementing an abundance of caution based on accumulated evidence which shows that a longer interval between doses can reduce the already low risks of serious side effects. These changes ensure the programme is now even safer.

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19. Should I cancel my appointment if it has already been booked for less than 12 weeks after my recent COVID-19 infection?

If you are under 18years old and at risk higher risk of serious COVID-19 disease, then you should continue with your planned appointment. If you are not in one of these risk groups, then the advice would be reschedule for 12 weeks after your COVID-19 infection.

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20. The Green Book says an interval shorter than 12 weeks after infection for those aged 16-17 who are not in an at risk group, may increase the chance of side effects – what does this mean?

Cases of myocarditis or pericarditis (inflammation of the heart) have been reported very rarely after COVID-19 vaccines. Most of these cases have been in younger men and usually a few days after the second vaccination although some cases occur after the first dose.

Most of these people recovered and felt better following rest and simple treatments. If you or your parents or carers do seek advice from a doctor or nurse, make sure you tell them about your vaccination (show them the vaccination card, if possible) so that they can assess you properly.

Anyone under 18 who has already a vaccine within 12 weeks of having a COVID-19 infection is highly unlikely to have experienced any serious side effects, but anyone who is concerned should be aware that these side effects are very rare and if they do occur this would be within a few days of vaccination, not weeks later.

If they have received a vaccination in the past few days please follow the advice in the “What to expect after vaccination” leaflet; this should have been given to them at their point of vaccination.  These leaflets are also published on the following links:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-vaccination-what-to-expect-after-vaccination/what-to-expect-after-your-covid-19-vaccination

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-vaccination-resources-for-children-and-young-people/information-for-children-and-young-people-on-what-to-expect-after-covid-19-vaccination

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21. If my child had a COVID-19 vaccine sooner than 12 weeks after confirmed infection, what signs and symptoms should I look for? How long is the period after vaccine I should worry for?

Cases of myocarditis or pericarditis have been reported very rarely after COVID-19 vaccine within a few days after vaccination. Most of these people recovered quickly and felt better following rest and simple treatments. You should seek medical advice urgently if you experience:

  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • feelings of having a fast-beating, fluttering, or pounding heart

Make sure to tell the medical professional who reviews your child that they have recently had a COVID vaccine, bring proof of vaccination to any medical assessments.

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22. Are there any people who can’t have the vaccine?

There are very few individuals who cannot receive the COVID-19 vaccines.

The vaccine should not be given to those who have had a previous systemic allergic reaction (i.e. more serious than just a local reaction, including immediate-onset anaphylaxis) to:

  • A previous dose of the same COVID-19 vaccine
  • Any component of the COVID-19 vaccine being offered

Or to individuals with:

  • Current COVID-19 infection or history of COVID-19 infection within the last 4 weeks (12 weeks for those aged 12-17). Persons can then receive their vaccination 28 days (12 weeks for those aged 12-17) after testing positive.
  • Severe illness and/or a high fever on the day of vaccination.

Individuals who are under 40 years of age or who have a history of a previous episode of heparin-induced thrombocytopenia and thrombosis (HITT or HIT type 2) should not receive the AstraZeneca vaccine. Individuals who experience a clotting episode associated with thrombocytopaenia following the first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine should defer vaccination and seek advice from a health professional regarding their second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

The Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna vaccines contain polyethylene glycol (PEG), which is from a group of known allergens commonly found in medicines and also in household goods and cosmetics. Known allergy to PEG is extremely rare but people with this allergy should not receive the Pfizer BioNTech or Moderna vaccine. Patients with undiagnosed PEG allergy may have a history of unexplained anaphylaxis or of anaphylaxis to multiple classes of drugs. The AstraZeneca vaccine does not contain PEG and is a suitable alternative. Medicines containing PEG include some tablets, laxatives, depot steroid injections, and some bowel preparations used for colonoscopy.

Any queries or concerns over previous or current allergies should be discussed with your Clinician/GP who will be able to advise in line with the most current guidance:

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23. I’ve had COVID-19 already/tested positive for antibodies, do I need to be vaccinated?

At present it is unclear whether previous infection with COVID-19 results in long term immunity. Therefore, if you are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine you should attend even if you have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past or have tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies.

Vaccines also produce a much stronger response from our immune system when compared to the response seen after COVID-19 infection alone.

Vaccination should be postponed for at least four weeks after onset of symptoms or four weeks from the first PCR positive test in those who did not have symptoms.

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24. Will other measures (social distancing/face coverings/restrictions) still apply to me if I’ve had the vaccine?

The vaccine will reduce your chance of becoming seriously ill with COVID-19, but there is still a chance you might get or spread it. Research is ongoing to examine the extent to which vaccinated people can still pass coronavirus to others. Therefore, it is essential that after vaccination you continue to follow the public health advice and comply with restrictions.

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25. How can I get proof of vaccination/a vaccine passport?

See here for more information. It should be noted that neither GP practices or other Health and Social Care organisations are able to issue letters for travel purposes.

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26. What about treatments, are there effective ways to treat COVID?

There are some treatments that have been proven to make a difference, for example the antiviral drug, remdesivir, can reduce the length of illness. Two steroid drugs, dexamethasone and hydrocortisone, have been shown to save lives but only in people who are seriously ill in hospital.

A new drug Molnupiravir has recently become available in the UK for the treatment of mild to moderate COVID-19 disease in people with at least one risk factor for developing severe disease such as obesity, old age, diabetes or heart disease.

However, prevention is better than getting the illness and needing treatment. A vaccine can prevent you from getting it, lessen the impact of the disease and slow it spreading. This will help stop others getting it and passing it on.

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27. How effective is the first vaccine injection without getting the second one? 

It is important to have both doses of the vaccine to give you the best protection. While the first dose acts as an important immune response primer, the second dose (& any further doses as appropriate for your age and/or risk group) is needed to boost your body’s immune response to the COVID-19 virus, providing the best protection for you.

It is also important to note that immunity is not instant once you have received your vaccination. It will take a few weeks for your body to produce the antibodies needed to produce an effective immune response to fight future COVID-19 infection.

It is important to remember that even after having your COVID-19 vaccine, you should take care in adhering to the current public health advice including social distancing and practicing good hand and respiratory hygiene.

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28. Have the vaccines been tested in people over 80 years old or just in younger populations?

The vaccine trials included persons of all ages up to over 80 years of age. The trials also included persons with co-morbidities as well as healthy persons. 

The Pfizer BioNTech vaccine has approval for use from 12 years old and currently has the most extensive safety data in those aged 12-15 years. This vaccine is therefore the preferred vaccine in this age group.

COVID-19: the green book, chapter 14a - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

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29. If I receive a RNA-based vaccine, can it tamper with my DNA?

No.

The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are the mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines currently being used in the UK.

COVID-19 mRNA vaccines work by introducing a molecule (mRNA) into the body which instructs the body’s cells to build a protein similar to those found in the virus that causes COVID-19. This protein is then recognised by the immune system which produces antibodies to protect the body against COVID-19 infection.

To put it a different way, the mRNA from these vaccines is read by our cells, similar to us reading an instruction manual, enabling those cells to make specific proteins which in turn mount an immune response in the body, helping to protect us against the COVID-19 infection. The mRNA is destroyed within days by your body. It will not be incorporated into your DNA.

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30. Can I still spread the virus to others if I am vaccinated?

The purpose of the vaccine is to protect you from becoming seriously ill from COVID-19 infection. This should also reduce the chances of you being able to spread the infection but transmission may still be possible. Once you are vaccinated you should therefore continue to adhere to public health measures including, social distancing, hand washing and wearing face coverings to keep others safe.

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31. If a person has received the vaccination and is subsequently notified that they have been in direct contact with a positive case - are they still required to isolate?

Guidance for close contacts is available here.

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32. Is there gluten in the vaccine as I am coeliac?

Gluten is a family of proteins found in certain cereal grains. The COVID-19 vaccines currently available do not contain gluten.

Whether or not diagnosed with coeliac disease, people who have had an allergic reaction to a previous dose of COVID-19 vaccine, or a component of the COVID-19 vaccine should not be given the vaccination. Anyone due to receive their vaccine should continue with their appointment and discuss any questions, serious allergies or any other medical conditions with the healthcare professional before having the vaccine.

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33. Can the COVID-19 vaccine lead to people having a positive COVID-19 nose or throat swab test?

No.

The COVID-19 vaccines produce a protective immune, antibody, response which can be measured by blood tests (serology). They do not affect  PCR swab results. which are the basis of diagnosing COVID-19 infection by detecting viral RNA proteins in the nose and throat.

The COVID-19 vaccines also do not affect the results of Lateral Flow Device (LFD) tests.

PCR tests should therefore be used by any person (vaccinated or unvaccinated) who subsequently goes on to develop symptoms of COVID-19.

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34. How long is the course? How many injections and over what period of time?

The Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines are  administered in two doses, 8 weeks apart.

The JCVI have announced that all adults over 18 will be eligible for a booster dose of COVID vaccine, three months after their second dose.

For certain at risk groups, a third primary dose is now recommended. These individuals will be identified by their Trust clinician or GP and will be invited to receive their third primary dose. Those aged 16 years and over with severe immunosuppression who have not yet received their third dose may be given their third dose now to avoid further delay. A further booster dose can be given in three months, in line with the clinical advice on optimal timing.

 For further information see the below ‘Green Book’ link and also the following page:

With regards the primary vaccination courses, it is recommended that second vaccine doses should be routinely scheduled up to 8 weeks after the first dose. If clinically indicated, these intervals can be shortened in line with the minimum recommended duration. Longer term protection is provided by the second and/or any third primary or booster doses. 

For all the COVID vaccines currently in use in the UK there is evidence of better protection due to an increased immune response where longer intervals between doses in the primary schedule are used. If an interval longer than the recommended interval is left between doses, the second dose should still be given (using the same vaccine as was given for the first dose if possible). The course does not need to be restarted.

Further guidance can be found at: Guidance overview: COVID-19: the green book, chapter 14a - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

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35. How long do I have to wait between the first and second doses of the vaccine?

Evidence shows high levels of short-term protection from first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines, including against severe disease. Alongside this, the research also indicates better protection as a result of increased immune response, where longer intervals are left between the first and second vaccine doses. Second doses are important to provide longer lasting protection and are expected to be as or more effective when given at an interval of 8 weeks from the first dose.

For individuals who are aged 12-17 and do not have an underlying medical condition, do not work as a healthcare worker or live with an immunosuppressed person, they should receive their second dose 12 weeks after their first dose. This time interval may be shorted to 8 weeks in periods of high number of cases or where there was a concern about the effectiveness of vaccines, caused by a new variant for example

Any clinically indicated third and/or booster doses are also important in providing longer lasting protection in those ‘higher risk’ groups. For more information on who is eligible for these, see:

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36. What happens if I don’t go for my second appointment?

The first dose of all approved COVID-19 vaccines will provide short term protection however it is important to get second doses (and any further doses as appropriate) to provide fuller, longer term protection against COVID-19.

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37. How long do I have to wait after getting the vaccine before I can leave the clinic?

Everyone who receives a COVID-19 vaccine will be observed for any immediate reactions during the period they are receiving any post-immunisation information and confirmation of their second appointment, if required.

Individuals who receive the Pfizer BioNTech and the Moderna vaccine should be monitored for 15 minutes after vaccination, with a longer observation period when indicated after clinical assessment. We advise that people being vaccinated should either be driven by someone else or, if this is not possible, should not drive for 15 minutes after vaccination. If you had a reaction to the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, inform your vaccinator or GP as you may require a prolonged observation period or they may need to seek advice from an Allergy Specialist.

Further information for health professionals on observation time and allergic reactions to the COVID-19 vaccines can be found here: 

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Safety and effectiveness of the vaccine

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38. Will the vaccine fully protect me against COVID-19?

The current vaccines have demonstrated  significant levels of protection against COVID-19 but no vaccine provides 100% protection. However, as more people in the population are vaccinated the risks of COVID-19 circulating should decrease, protecting those who are vulnerable to COVID-19 or who are unable to have the vaccine.

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39. If I have the vaccine may I be immune for life? Can I still catch COVID-19 after I’ve been immunised?

The duration of protection remains under investigation. The JCVI have recommended that all adults over 18 should receive a COVID booster 3 months after their second dose. For further advice on the COVID-19 booster programme, please see question 1.

Further details regarding the COVID-19 booster programme including eligible groups can be found at:

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40. Has the vaccine been rushed? Is it safe?

A COVID-19 vaccine is only approved once it has met strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness as set out by the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

There may be a misconception that vaccine research takes a long time but it isn’t the research that takes the time – it’s all the steps beforehand, like getting funding and approval.

COVID-19 vaccines have been developed at speed because the UK Government has funded trials to get them up and running quickly.

The MHRA and Health Research Authority have sped up the process of approval – things like administrative paperwork that used to take months which is now being done in days. This has brought down the time for delivery of the clinical trials. Processes have also been streamlined and now run in parallel.

The length of the trials themselves has not been shortened, and the usual safety measures remain in place.

New technology has also helped, enabling vaccines to be manufactured quickly, and vaccines are also being produced in advance meaning that they are available as soon as they are approved.

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41. I have a health condition/allergy. Can I still get the vaccine?

There are very few individuals who cannot receive any of the COVID-19 vaccines. Where there is doubt, rather than withholding vaccination, appropriate advice should be sought from the relevant specialist, or from the local immunisation or health protection team, to allow individuals to make an informed decision.

The vaccines currently available in the UK are not live vaccines, and so are safe for people with disorders of the immune system such as immunosuppression.  

The vaccine should not be given to those who have had a previous systemic allergic reaction (i.e. more serious than just a local reaction, including immediate-onset anaphylaxis) to:

  • A previous dose of the same COVID-19 vaccine
  • Any component of the COVID-19 vaccine being offered

Or to individuals with:

  • Current COVID-19 infection or history of COVID-19 infection within the last 4 weeks.
  • Severe illness and/or a high fever on the day of vaccination.

The Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna vaccines contain polyethylene glycol (PEG), which is from a group of known allergens commonly found in medicines and also in household goods and cosmetics. Known allergy to PEG is extremely rare but people with this allergy should not receive the Pfizer BioNTech or Moderna vaccine. Patients with undiagnosed PEG allergy may have a history of unexplained anaphylaxis or of anaphylaxis to multiple classes of drugs. The AstraZeneca vaccine does not contain PEG and is a suitable alternative. Medicines containing PEG include some tablets, laxatives, depot steroid injections, and some bowel preparations used for colonoscopy.

Individuals who have a history of a previous episode of heparin-induced thrombocytopenia and thrombosis (HITT or HIT type 2) should not receive the AstraZeneca vaccine. Individuals who experience a clotting episode associated with thrombocytopaenia following the first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine should defer vaccination and seek advice from a health professional regarding their second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.  These individuals should be considered for a second dose of an alternative COVID-19 vaccine.

Individuals with any further queries or concerns should discuss these with their Clinician/GP who will be able to advise in line with the most current guidance which can be found at:

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42. Do I have to wait after getting the flu vaccine before I can get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Both the COVID-19 and seasonal flu vaccination programmes are important for individual and public health, especially over winter 2021 to 2022. Where operationally convenient, COVID-19 boosters and influenza vaccines may be co-administered.

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43. Can I get the vaccine if I’m pregnant or breast feeding?

Yes.

In line with the advice from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), Royal College of Midwives (RCM) and the JCVI, all pregnant & breast feeding women should be offered the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 and Moderna vaccines are currently the preferred vaccines of choice for pregnant women because of their more extensive use in pregnancy (Green Book; COVID-19 Chapter). However those women who have already received their first dose of AstraZeneca should complete their course with the same vaccine (unless otherwise contraindicated).

Over 200,000 pregnant women in the UK & USA have been vaccinated so far (mostly with the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 and Moderna vaccines) with no safety issues raised. Vaccine trials in pregnant women are ongoing.

 

Further information regarding the vaccines can be found at the following links:

 

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44. I’ve heard the COVID-19 vaccination can affect your chances of getting pregnant or cause infertility?

There are no plausible physiological mechanisms by which any of the COVID-19 vaccines could affect fertility in women or men.

The British Fertility Society, Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists and Association of Reproductive and Clinical Scientists have all  reiterated this stating that there is absolutely no evidence, and no theoretical reason, that any of the COVID-19 vaccines can affect the fertility of women or men.

Further information can be found at: 

www.britishfertilitysociety.org.uk/2021/07/27/bfs-arcs-covid-19-vaccines-fertility-2    

https://www.rcog.org.uk/en/guidelines-research-services/coronavirus-covid-19-pregnancy-and-womens-health/covid-19-vaccines-and-pregnancy/covid-19-vaccines-pregnancy-and-breastfeeding/

People of reproductive age are therefore advised to get the vaccine as soon as they receive their invitation for vaccination. This includes those who are trying to have a baby as well as those who are thinking about having a baby, whether that is in the near future or in a few years’ time, as well as those people undergoing fertility treatment

There have been unfounded rumours circulating widely that COVID-19 vaccines could cause infertility because of a similarities in the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 and proteins in cells in the placenta. There are no similarities between these proteins that could feasibly cause the immune system to affect the placenta. There is also no evidence that the immune response to the spike protein – either from infection with COVID-19 itself, or from the vaccine – has had any effect on the placenta or pregnancy outcomes.

Social media posts claiming that the ‘head of Pfizer research’ said the company’s COVID-19 vaccine would cause infertility in women have been shared widely. The person referred to is a former employee of Pfizer who left the company in 2011 and who has shared misinformation about COVID-19 in the past.

The Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, and the Royal College of Midwifery have released a statement on this (19/01/2021). Both also cover it in their FAQs:

www.rcog.org.uk/en/news/RCOG-and-RCM-respond-to-misinformation-around-Covid-19-vaccine-and-fertility/

https://www.rcog.org.uk/en/guidelines-research-services/coronavirus-covid-19-pregnancy-and-womens-health/covid-19-vaccines-and-pregnancy/covid-19-vaccines-pregnancy-and-breastfeeding/

While the PHA is not affiliated with the following fact checking websites, they have information addressing the false claims which may be useful for helping you to make an informed decision and providing reassurance:

www.snopes.com/fact-check/covid-vaccine-female-sterilization/?mc_cid=639a39a608&mc_eid=38e9f8ee6f

https://fullfact.org/health/vaccine-covid-fertility/

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45. I am currently going through or planning to go through IVF. Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Yes.

The British Fertility Society and RCOG have produced helpful advice for those going through or planning to go through IVF.

More detailed information can be found here:

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46. I have had my first vaccine and am now pregnant.  Should I get my second dose vaccination?

Yes.

If a woman finds out she is pregnant after she has started a course of vaccine, she should complete vaccination during pregnancy using the same vaccine product (unless contra-indicated). Therefore, for pregnant women who have received a first dose of AstraZeneca and are due to receive their second dose, second dose appointments should continue as planned.

Further information can be found at the following links:

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47. Can COVID-19 vaccination cause changes to my period or abnormal vaginal bleeding?

The current evidence does not suggest an increased risk of either menstrual disorders or unexpected vaginal bleeding following vaccination with the vaccines reviewed (Pfizer/BioNTech, COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca or COVID-19 Vaccine Moderna).

The MHRA has reviewed reports of menstrual disorders and unexpected vaginal bleeding suspected as adverse reactions to vaccination with the three COVID-19 vaccines currently being used in the UK: Pfizer/BioNTech, COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca and COVID-19 Vaccine Moderna. These reports have also been reviewed by independent experts of the Commission on Human Medicines’ COVID-19 Vaccines Benefit Risk Expert Working Group and members of its Medicines for Women’s Health Expert Advisory Group.

A range of menstrual disorders have been reported after all three of these COVID-19 vaccines including heavy bleeding, delayed periods and unexpected vaginal bleeding. Any changes to menstruation post vaccination are usually temporary in nature. The number of reports of menstrual disorders and vaginal bleeding is low in relation to both the number of females who have received COVID-19 vaccines to date and the background rate of menstrual disorders generally. Our advice remains that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks for most people.

The MHRA will continue to closely monitor reports of menstrual disorders and vaginal bleeding with COVID-19 vaccines.

As with any suspected side effects from the COVID-19 vaccines, including those in relation to menstrual disorders, please continue to report via the Yellow Card scheme here.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists have issued this statement:

 

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48. What happens if I experience side effects/adverse or unexpected events, how do I report it? 

Vaccines are very safe. The COVID-19 vaccines have undergone multiple stages of testing to ensure their safety, including trials in tens of thousands of volunteers with differing ages & comorbidities. As with all medicines, side effects can occur after getting a vaccine. However, these are usually very minor and of short duration, such as a sore arm or a mild fever. More serious side effects are possible, but extremely rare.  

An uncommon side effect is swollen glands in the armpit or neck on the same side as the arm where you had the vaccine. This can last for around 10 days, but if it lasts longer see your doctor. If you are due for a mammogram then you should mention that you have had the vaccine when you attend.

Worldwide, there have also been recent, rare cases of inflammation of the heart called myocarditis or pericarditis, reported after the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19, Moderna and the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines. These cases have been seen mostly in younger men several days after their second vaccination dose. Most of these individuals recovered following rest and simple treatments.

Symptoms of myocarditis and pericarditis include new onset of chest pain, shortness of breath or feelings of a fast-beating, fluttering, or pounding heart.Should you develop any one or more of these symptoms after your COVID-19 vaccination, you should urgently seek medical assistance.

You can report side effects that you are concerned about to the COVID-19 vaccination, or any other medicine or vaccine, through the MHRA Yellow Card Scheme at:

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49. What’s in the vaccines?

Recipient information including ingredients for all of the approved vaccines can be found at:

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50. Do the vaccines have any ingredients which are unsuitable for religious groups?

A full list of ingredients can be found in Question 45.

The British Islamic Medical Association have statements on all three of the COVID-19 vaccines currently in use in the UK, encouraging those eligible to get vaccinated at:

They also have a ‘Debunking Myths around COVID-19’ page, which can be found at:

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) have confirmed that the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19, AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines do not contain any components of animal origin and that none of the vaccines given contain fetal cells in their ingredients.

The following guide contains information on how vaccines are made and what human and animal products are used: 

www.gov.uk/government/publications/use-of-human-and-animal-products-in-vaccines

The Northern Ireland Department of Health released a statement on 23rd August 2021 confirming that the COVID vaccines currently in use in NI do not contain fetal cells.

The full statement can be found here: https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/news/covid-19-fact-file-vaccines-are-pro-life

The moral issues around the use of vaccines grown on fetal cell lines have been discussed within the Catholic Church. The Church notes that the cells lines are distant from the initial termination, and states that acceptance of such vaccines where there is no appropriate alternative does not signify cooperation with abortion: 

The ‘Give Hope’ campaign has been organised by Your Neighbour, a movement of more than 1,100 churches from over 40 denominations in the UK created to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The campaign is supporting efforts by the NHS and public health officials to encourage greater take-up of the vaccine by BAME people and to dispel the myths around it: 

The Give Hope campaign has the backing from over 40 denominations in the UK including the Church of England, Anglican, Salvation Army, Baptist, Pentecostal, Evangelical, Redeemed Christian Church of God and black majority churches.

The Orthodox Union have also made a statement regarding the COVID-19 vaccine and have said that they strongly encourage all those eligible to access the vaccine to do so: 

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51. Do they have ingredients which are unsuitable for vegans?

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine does not contain any meat derivatives or porcine products. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) have confirmed that the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19, AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines do not contain any components of animal origin.

This guide contains information on how vaccines are made and what human and animal products are used: 

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52. Do they have any ingredients which are unsuitable for those with allergies?

Any person with a history of anaphylaxis to any component of the vaccine should not receive it. A second dose of the vaccine should not be given to those who have experienced anaphylaxis to the first dose of it. Advice should be sought from an Allergy Specialist in this situation.

Vaccine recipients should be monitored for 15 minutes after the Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, with a longer observation period when indicated after clinical assessment.

If you had a reaction to the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, inform your vaccinator or GP as you may require a prolonged observation period or they may need to seek advice from an Allergy Specialist.

The Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna vaccines contain polyethylene glycol (PEG), which is from a group of known allergens commonly found in medicines and also in household goods and cosmetics. Known allergy to PEG is extremely rare but people with this allergy should not receive the Pfizer BioNTech or Moderna vaccine. Patients with undiagnosed PEG allergy may have a history of unexplained anaphylaxis or of anaphylaxis to multiple classes of drugs. The AstraZeneca vaccine does not contain PEG and is a suitable alternative.

Medicines containing PEG include some tablets, laxatives, depot steroid injections, and some bowel preparations used for colonoscopy.

You can still have the COVID-19 vaccine if you have an allergy to penicillin, latex, insect stings, dust mites, and food including nuts and eggs, as long as you are not allergic to any component of the vaccine.

For further guidance see:

Recipient information including ingredients for all of the approved vaccines can be found at:

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53. I am a transplant recipient/I am on the transplant waiting list, how can I find out information about the vaccine specific to my clinical situation?

There is specific advice on the COVID-19 vaccines for transplant patients, patients on the transplant list and living donors at the following link: 

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54. Does drinking alcohol impact on how effective the COVID-19 vaccine is?

There is no evidence to indicate that drinking alcohol within the recommended weekly limits will have any impact on the vaccine’s effectiveness.

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55. I am a member of the Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) community, should I have the COVID-19 vaccine?

Yes.

The JCVI have stated that there is clear evidence that certain Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups have higher rates of infection, and higher rates of serious disease, morbidity and mortality due to COVID-19.

Researchers at the University of Oxford have identified a gene that doubles the risk of developing lung failure and death in people who are infected with SARS-Cov-2 virus (COVID-19). This gene is carried by more than 60% of people with a South Asian ancestry, it is also carried by around 15% of people with a European ancestry. The leader of the research team (Prof James Davies) has said: "Although we cannot change our genetics, our results show that the people with the higher risk gene are likely to particularly benefit from vaccination."

In addition, we know that certain health conditions are also associated with increased risk of serious disease, and these health conditions are often found at increased numbers in certain BAME groups.

The ‘Give Hope’ campaign has been organised by Your Neighbour, a movement of more than 1,100 churches from over 40 denominations in the UK created to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The campaign is supporting efforts by the NHS and public health officials to encourage greater take-up of the vaccine by BAME people and to dispel the myths around it: 

The Give Hope campaign has the backing from over 40 denominations in the UK including the Church of England, Anglican, Salvation Army, Baptist, Pentecostal, Evangelical, Redeemed Christian Church of God and black majority churches.

It is also clear that societal factors, such as occupation, household size, deprivation, and access to healthcare can increase susceptibility to COVID-19 and result in worse outcomes following infection. All persons over the age of 12 years old are therefore encouraged to receive the COVID-19 vaccinations when offered.

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56. Can children get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Everyone over the age of 12 years old is now eligible for vaccination.

For full details on vaccination depending on age group please see FAQ no 16.

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57. I have a condition that puts me at increased risk of bleeding or I am on blood thinners/anticoagulants. Can I get the vaccine?

Your vaccinator will be aware to check about bleeding risk. Individuals with bleeding disorders should check with their GP or specialist to check if it is safe for them to receive the vaccine. If you receive medication/ treatment to reduce bleeding, for example treatment for haemophilia, vaccination can be scheduled shortly after such medication/treatment is given. 

Individuals on stable anticoagulation therapy, including individuals on warfarin who are up-to-date with their scheduled INR testing and whose latest INR is within the safe range can receive the vaccines unless they have other contraindications, as discussed above.

You may get more bruising from the vaccination if you have a blood clotting problem or are on blood thinners, and may be advised to apply firm pressure without rubbing to the vaccine site for a bit longer.

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58. I have a clotting disorder. Can I get the vaccine?

Yes. Individuals with past clotting episodes and those diagnosed with thrombophilia, whether or not they are on long term anti-coagulation, remain at risk of COVID-19 disease. There is no evidence that those with a prior history of blood clots or known risk factors for blood clots are more at risk of developing the immune-mediated condition of clots in combination with thrombocytopaenia (low platelets) after the AstraZeneca vaccine.

For most of these individuals, the risk of recurrent blood clots due to COVID-19 infection remains far greater than the risk of this syndrome. Therefore individuals with such a history should be vaccinated with any of the available vaccines (provided they are not otherwise contra-indicated).The same consideration applies to those who experience common clotting episodes after the first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine but without concomitant thrombocytopaenia (low platelets).

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59. I have heard that there are COVID-19 vaccination scams. How do I know if an email/phone call or text is genuine?

During the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic make sure you are on your guard against scams. Scammers often make contact by email, phone calls, text messages, social media posts and even calling at your door and may ask for money.

There have been reports of scams relating to the COVID-19 vaccine. In Northern Ireland COVID-19 vaccines will only be available through the Health and Social Care (HSC) service. Remember:

  • HSC will NEVER ask you for your bank account or card details.
  • HSC will NEVER ask you for your PIN or banking password.
  • HSC staff will NEVER arrive unannounced at your home to administer the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • HSC will NEVER ask you to prove your identity by sending copies of personal documents such as your passport, driving licence, bills or pay slips. 

If you receive a call/text/email claiming to be a COVID-19 vaccine booking line asking for your bank details or for money this is a scam. Never give out your bank details over the phone or email to an unknown, unverified source.

More information on spotting fraud and scams is available at:

Information on COVID-19 Vaccine Fraud provided by Action Fraud can be found at the following link: 

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60. I think I have received a phone call/email/text inviting me to book my COVID-19 vaccine that is a scam, what should I do?

If you receive a call you believe to be fraudulent, end the call by hanging up immediately.

If you are concerned/suspicious about an email you have received, forward the email to: report@phishing.gov.uk so these scams can be identified and stopped.

If you are concerned/suspicious about a text message you have received, alert Action Fraud by forwarding the text message to the number 7726. Forwarding the message is free of charge.

When you forward the suspicious message to 7726 you will receive a reply asking for the number which sent you the suspicious text. Provide the phone number from which you received the suspicious text and Action Fraud will follow up with the mobile phone provider.

If you believe you are a victim of a fraud, please report this to Action Fraud as soon as possible by calling 0300 123 2040 or visiting www.actionfraud.police.uk.

 

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