COVID-19 Vaccination Programme questions and answers

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Table of Contents

  1. About the vaccine
  2. 1. Why are vaccines important?
  3. 2. When will the vaccine be available?
  4. 3. Will there be enough vaccine available to vaccinate the whole population over time?
  5. 4. Will the vaccine be compulsory?
  6. 5. Who decides who gets the COVID-19 vaccine first?
  7. 6. Are there any precautions I need to take before or after I receive the vaccine?
  8. 7. Which vaccine will I get?
  9. 8. Is one vaccine better than another?
  10. 9. Can I choose which vaccine I receive?
  11. 10. Is it a live vaccine?
  12. 11. Who can get the vaccine?
  13. 12. Are there any people who can’t have the vaccine?
  14. 13. I’ve had COVID-19 already/tested positive for antibodies, do I need to be vaccinated?
  15. 14. I don’t know anyone who’s had COVID, so why do we need a vaccine?
  16. 15. Will the vaccine be free if I’m in a priority group? Will it be free if I’m not?
  17. 16. Will other measures (social distancing/face coverings/lockdowns) still apply to me if I’ve had the vaccine?
  18. 17. Once we get a vaccine, can we end restrictions and lockdowns?
  19. 18. What about treatments, are there effective ways to treat COVID?
  20. 19. Will the vaccine become a yearly injection like the flu vaccine?
  21. 20. How effective is the first vaccine injection without getting the second one? 
  22. 21. Have the vaccines been tested in people over 80 years old or just in younger populations?
  23. 22. If I receive a RNA-based vaccine what are the implications for it tampering with my DNA in longer term?
  24. 23. Can I still spread the virus to others if I am vaccinated?
  25. 24. 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?
  26. 25. What percentage of the population needs to get the vaccine to have herd immunity?
  27. 26. Is there gluten in the vaccine as I am coeliac?
  28. 27. Can the COVID-19 vaccine lead to people having a positive COVID-19 nose or throat swab test?
  29. How the vaccine is given
  30. 28. How long is the course of treatment? How many injections and over what period of time?
  31. 29. How long do I have to wait between the first and second doses of the vaccine?
  32. 30. What happens if I don’t go for my second appointment?
  33. 31. How long do I have to wait after getting the vaccine before I can leave the clinic?
  34. Safety and effectiveness of the vaccine
  35. 32. Will the vaccine fully protect me against COVID-19?
  36. 33. If I have the vaccine will I be immune for life? Can I still catch COVID-19 after I’ve been immunised?
  37. 34. Has the vaccine been rushed? Is it safe?
  38. 35. I have a health condition. How will I be sure the vaccine is safe?
  39. 36. Do I have to wait after getting the flu vaccine before I can get the COVID-19 vaccine?
  40. 37. Can I get the vaccine if I’m pregnant, breast feeding or planning to get pregnant?
  41. 38. I’ve heard the COVID-19 vaccination can affect your chances of getting pregnant or cause infertility?
  42. 39. I am currently going through or planning to go through IVF. Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine?
  43. 40. What happens if I experience side effects/adverse or unexpected events, how do I report it?
  44. 41. What’s in the vaccines?
  45. 42. Do they have any ingredients which are unsuitable for religious groups?
  46. 43. Do they have ingredients which are unsuitable for vegans?
  47. 44. Do they have any ingredients which are unsuitable for those with allergies?
  48. 45. 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?
  49. 46. Does drinking alcohol impact on how effective the COVID-19 vaccine is?
  50. 47. I am a member of the Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) community, should I have the COVID-19 vaccine?
  51. 48. Can children get the COVID-19 vaccine?
  52. 49. I have a blood clotting problem, or am on blood thinners/anticoagulants. Can I get the vaccine?
  53. 50. I have heard that there are COVID-19 vaccination scams. How do I know if an email/phone call or text is genuine?
  54. 51. I think I have received phone call/email/text inviting me to book my COVID-19 vaccine that is a scam, what should I do?
  55. Vaccination at GP Practices
  56. 52. Who are GPs vaccinating?
  57. 53. Do I need to contact my GP to book an appointment?
  58. Booking online and by telephone

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About the vaccine

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1. 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 can reduce or even eradicate some diseases, if enough people are vaccinated. Since vaccines were introduced, diseases like smallpox and polio that used to kill or disable millions of people are gone from 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, potentially leading to lifting of restrictions.

Further information from the Joint Committee of Vaccinations and Immunisations on the COVID-19 vaccines can be found here:

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2. When will the vaccine be available?

Three vaccines have been approved for use in the UK:

  • the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine
  • the AstraZeneca vaccine
  • the Moderna vaccine

The first two are already in use in Northern Ireland; supplies of the Moderna vaccine are expected to arrive in the UK in spring 2021.

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.

It is expected that all eligible adults will be offered the vaccine in due course. 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 who should be offered the vaccination first.

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3. Will there be enough vaccine available to vaccinate the whole population over time?

The UK government has placed orders for a number of candidate vaccinations, there is expected to be enough doses to cover the whole UK population over the coming year.

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4. Will the vaccine be compulsory?

The UK operates a system of informed consent for vaccinations. There are no plans in place to make the COVID-19 vaccine compulsory.

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5. Who decides who gets the COVID-19 vaccine first?

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 who should be offered the vaccination first.

JCVI guidance has identified the first priority groups to be care home residents and staff, health and social care workers and people aged over 80, who will be offered the vaccine first.

It is anticipated that further priority groups based on age and clinical vulnerability factors will be added to those eligible to receive the new COVID-19 vaccinations as supplies increase in 2021.

Information on the roll out in Northern Ireland can be found at www.health-ni.gov.uk/publications/covid-19-vaccination-programme-phased-plan

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

You should follow existing advice to reduce 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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7. Which vaccine will I get?

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

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8. 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 independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) which will grant approval and licencing of vaccines if they meet the required effectiveness and safety requirements. Any vaccine offered will be effective and safe. JCVI does not advise a preference for either vaccine in any specific population.

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9. Can I choose which vaccine I receive?

As people have to complete a course of two vaccinations and the programme will be delivered in a phased approach to ensure those most at risk are vaccinated first, it is not possible to choose one vaccine over another.

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10. Is it a live vaccine?

None of the three 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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11. Who can get the vaccine?

It is expected that all eligible adults aged 18 years and over will be offered the vaccine in due course. Some older children (aged 12 and over) at very high risk of exposure and serious outcomes, such as older children with severe neuro-disabilities and recurrent respiratory infections that require residential care, should also be offered vaccination.

There are very few individuals who cannot receive the Pfizer-BioNTech or AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines (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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12. 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.
  • Severe illness and/or a high fever on the day of vaccination.

The Pfizer BioNTech and (when it becomes available) 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.

Many biologics/monoclonal preparations (a type of treatment used for certain conditions including autoimmune disease and cancer) contain PEG or related compounds. Individuals who have a history of systemic allergic reactions (i.e. more serious than just a local reaction, including immediate-onset anaphylaxis) to biologics should not receive Pfizer vaccine except on the expert advice of an allergy specialist.

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

At present it is unclear if previous infection with COVID-19 results in long term immunity. Therefore, when you are invited for your vaccination, you should attend even if you have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past or have tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies. Vaccination should be postponed until clinical recovery from COVID-19, 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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14. I don’t know anyone who’s had COVID, so why do we need a vaccine?

The number of people worldwide who have died with COVID-19 has passed two million, with many regions still reporting surging numbers of new infections.

In Northern Ireland, there have been many deaths and thousands more people hospitalised, or with ongoing health complications.

People continue to get infected, and once the virus starts to spread it can do so rapidly. Even if you, your family or friends haven’t experienced it first hand, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a threat. Being vaccinated will help to protect you against COVID-19.

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15. Will the vaccine be free if I’m in a priority group? Will it be free if I’m not?

The vaccine will be provided free to those recommended to be vaccinated by JCVI. It may take a while to get to everybody, but, when you are invited, make sure you get yours.

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

Yes, you should still act to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the community and stick to the regulations.

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17. Once we get a vaccine, can we end restrictions and lockdowns?

An effective vaccine will be the best way to protect the most vulnerable from coronavirus and the biggest breakthrough since the pandemic began. It will be a huge step forward in the fight against coronavirus, potentially saving tens of thousands of lives. Once vaccinations begin, the Government will closely monitor the impact on individuals, on HSC pressures and on the spread of the virus.

The full impact on infection rates will not become clear until a large number of people have been vaccinated, but as larger numbers do get vaccinated, we will hopefully move further along the path back to a more normal way of life.

As large numbers of people from at risk groups are given a vaccine, the Government will be able to examine the impact on infection rates, hospitalisation and reduced deaths; if successful this should in time lead to a substantial reassessment of current restrictions. Given the numbers of people to be vaccinated it is likely to be many months before the full impact of the programme is seen in the community.

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

There are some treatments that have been proven to make a difference, for example 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.

However, it is best not to get the illness at all, rather than get it and treat it. A vaccine can help stop you 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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19. Will the vaccine become a yearly injection like the flu vaccine?

The requirement for regular booster doses of COVID-19 vaccine are not yet recommended because the need for, and timing of, such boosters has not yet been determined.

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20. 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 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 period of time for your body to produce the antibodies needed to produce an effective immune response to fight future COVID-19 infection. Therefore it is important that even after you have had the COVID-19 vaccine you adhere to the current public health advice including social distancing and practicing good hand and respiratory hygiene.

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

The vaccine trials included adults of all ages up to over 80 years of age. The trials also included adults with co-morbidities as well as healthy adults. COVID-19 vaccine trials have only just begun in children and there are therefore, very limited data on safety and effectiveness in this group at present.

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22. If I receive a RNA-based vaccine what are the implications for it tampering with my DNA in longer term?

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the only RNA-based COVID-19 vaccine being used in the UK at present. When it becomes available later in 2021, the Moderna vaccine will be the second. Messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines are a relatively new type of vaccine to protect against infectious diseases, but any that have been approved for use have been through robust checks for safety and effectiveness.

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. The protein is then recognised by the immune system which produces antibodies which will provide protection against COVID-19 infection.

This introduction of mRNA into your body does NOT change the DNA of the human cells, it is read by cells to make a protein to mount an immune response, then will be destroyed within days by your body. It will not be incorporated into your DNA.  

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

The purpose of the vaccine is to prevent you from getting COVID-19 infection, this should reduce the chances of you being able to spread the infection by becoming ill. However, as the vaccine is new it has not yet been possible to establish if vaccination will prevent carriage of the virus in the nose and throat of people who have been vaccinated. More information will become available on this as these vaccinations are rolled out more widely and the impact on virus spread can be assessed. The best protection you can have is to have the vaccination when you are invited to attend, and to continue to follow measures to reduce spread like social distancing, hand and respiratory hygiene and face coverings where advised.

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24. 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?

Yes. While the purpose of the vaccine is to prevent you from getting COVID-19 infection, which should reduce the chances of you being able to spread the infection by becoming ill; as the vaccine is new it has not yet been possible to establish if vaccination will prevent carriage of the virus in the nose and throat of people who have been vaccinated. Therefore if you are a household contact of or are advised by Contact Tracing or the STOPCOVID NI App you are a close contact of a case of COVID-19 you need to self-isolate.

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25. What percentage of the population needs to get the vaccine to have herd immunity?

When a high proportion of a population receive an effective vaccine it becomes difficult for the disease to spread, this gives protection to vulnerable people such as newborn babies and other people who can’t be vaccinated, which is known as herd immunity. It is not clear what proportion of people would be required to be vaccinated to achieve this because the vaccines against the disease are new and COVID-19 is a global pandemic infection. Therefore, the best protection you can have is to have the vaccination when you are invited to attend and to continue to follow measures to reduce spread like social distancing, hand and respiratory hygiene and face coverings where advised.

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

No. The vaccines being used produce a protective immune, antibody, response which can be measured by serology blood tests. They do not affect a PCR swab test, which is the basis of diagnosing COVID-19 infection by detecting viral RNA in the nose and throat. They also do not affect the results of Lateral Flow Device (LFD) tests. PCR tests will be used as part of the vaccine effectiveness assessment in those who are vaccinated and subsequently develop symptoms of COVID-19.

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How the vaccine is given

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

The Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine can be administered in 2 doses, a minimum of 21 days apart. The AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine can be administered in 2 doses, a minimum of 28 days apart.

It is recommended that the second dose of both vaccines should be routinely scheduled up to 12 weeks after the first dose. This will allow more people to benefit from the protection provided from the first dose during the roll out phase. Longer term protection will then be provided by the second dose. If an interval longer than the recommended interval is left between doses, the second dose should still be given (preferably using the same vaccine as was given for the first dose if possible). The course does not need to be restarted.

For more information see www.health-ni.gov.uk/news/briefing-rescheduling-second-doses-pfizerbiontech-covid-19-vaccine

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

The evidence has shown high levels of short-term protection from the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and the AstraZeneca vaccine, including against severe disease. As the first doses of both vaccines give a high level of protection, the JCVI has recommended that initially vaccinating a greater number of people with a single dose will prevent more deaths and hospitalisations than vaccinating a smaller number of people with 2 doses. The second dose is important to provide longer lasting protection and is expected to be as or more effective when given at an interval of 12 weeks from the first dose.

More information on the evidence and rationale for rescheduling of the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccines can be found here: www.gov.uk/government/publications/prioritising-the-first-covid-19-vaccine-dose-jcvi-statement/optimising-the-covid-19-vaccination-programme-for-maximum-short-term-impact

The NI Department of Health also released a statement on this topic which can be found here: www.health-ni.gov.uk/news/briefing-rescheduling-second-doses-pfizerbiontech-covid-19-vaccine

 

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

The first dose of both COVID-19 vaccines will provide short term protection. It is important to get the second dose to provide fuller, longer term protection against COVID-19.

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31. 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 (when it becomes available) the Moderna vaccine should be monitored for 15 mins 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.

Individuals with a localised itchy skin reaction, otherwise known as an urticarial reaction (without other systemic i.e. affecting the whole body symptoms) to the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, should receive the second dose of vaccine with prolonged observation (30 minutes) in a hospital (or setting with full resuscitation facilities).  If the first dose was with Pfizer vaccine, then AstraZeneca vaccine can be considered as an alternative (if not otherwise contraindicated).  This could be delivered in a primary care setting but with a 30 minute prolonged observation period.

Further information for health professionals on observation time and allergic reactions to the COVID-19 vaccines can be found here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/955548/Greenbook_chapter_14a_v6.pdf

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Safety and effectiveness of the vaccine

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

The current vaccines have demonstrated a high level of protection against COVID-19 but no vaccine provides 100% protection. However, as more people in the population are vaccinated with an effective vaccine the risks of circulating virus should decrease protecting those people who either do not respond fully to the vaccine or who are unable to have the vaccine because of allergic reactions.

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

The duration of protection remains unknown, and further doses may be necessary. 

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

For a vaccine to reach the general public it will have to work and be safe.

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. What’s sped up in the development of a COVID-19 vaccine is the funding. The UK Government funded trials to get them up and running quickly.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and Medicines Research Authority have sped up the process of approval – things like administrative paperwork that used to take months is now being done in days. This is what’s brought down the time for delivery of the clinical trials.

Processes have been streamlined and run in parallel. The length of the trials themselves has not been shortened, and the usual safety measures remain in place and high standards must still be met.

It has also been enabled by new technology, including the ability to rapidly manufacture vaccines. And supply – the vaccine is being produced already so that as soon as it’s known to be safe and effective it can be made available.

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35. I have a health condition. How will I be sure the vaccine is safe?

The vaccines currently available in the UK do not contain living organisms, and so are safe for people with disorders of the immune system.  People who should not receive the vaccine include:

  • A confirmed anaphylactic reaction to a previous dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
  • A confirmed anaphylactic reaction to any components of the vaccine.
  • Current COVID-19 infection or history or COVID-19 infection within the last 4 weeks.
  • Severe illness and a high fever on the day of vaccination.

There are very few individuals who cannot receive the Pfizer-BioNTech or AstraZeneca 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

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

Current recommendations are that you should wait for 7 days after having another vaccination before having the COVID-19 vaccine. This is to avoid incorrectly attributing any side effects to the COVID-19 vaccine.

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37. Can I get the vaccine if I’m pregnant, breast feeding or planning to get pregnant?

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has amended its previous highly precautionary advice on COVID-19 vaccines and pregnancy or breastfeeding. Vaccination with either vaccine in pregnancy should be considered where the risk of exposure SARS-CoV2 infection is high and cannot be avoided, or where the woman has underlying conditions that place her at very high risk of serious complications of COVID-19, and the risks and benefits of vaccination should be discussed.

The JCVI have stated that “there is no known risk associated with giving non-live vaccines during pregnancy. These vaccines cannot replicate, so they cannot cause infection in either the woman or the unborn child. Although the available data does not indicate any safety concern or harm to pregnancy, there is insufficient evidence to recommend routine use of COVID-19 vaccines during pregnancy. There is also no known risk associated with giving non-live vaccines whilst breastfeeding.”

The Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology has updated advice on COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy and breastfeeding (30/12/2020):

www.rcog.org.uk/en/news/updated-advice-on-covid-19-vaccination-in-pregnancy-and-women-who-are-breastfeeding and www.rcog.org.uk/en/guidelines-research-services/guidelines/coronavirus-pregnancy/covid-19-virus-infection-and-pregnancy/#vaccines

Those who are trying to become pregnant do not need to avoid pregnancy after vaccination, and breastfeeding women may be offered vaccination with either vaccine following consideration of the woman’s clinical need for immunisation against COVID-19. The UK Chief Medical Officers agree with this advice.

www.health-ni.gov.uk/news/statement-uk-chief-medical-officers-prioritisation-first-doses-covid-19-vaccines

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

The British Fertility Society and Association of Reproductive and Clinical Scientists have advised that there is absolutely no evidence, and no theoretical reason, that any of the vaccines can affect the fertility of women or men. People of reproductive age are advised to have the vaccine when 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. The full document is available at www.britishfertilitysociety.org.uk/2021/02/09/bfs-arcs-covid-19-vaccines-fertility/

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

While 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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39. I am currently going through or planning to go through IVF. Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine?

The British Fertility Society and Association of Reproductive and Clinical Scientists have developed FAQs that provide advice for those of reproductive age including advice on fertility treatment including IVF and advice on egg and sperm donation.

There are available at www.britishfertilitysociety.org.uk/2021/02/09/bfs-arcs-covid-19-vaccines-fertility/

If you are currently planning or undergoing IVF or other fertility treatment, you should discuss COVID-19 vaccination with your fertility specialist.

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

Vaccines are very safe. 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. Tests have been done in thousands of adults to ensure the vaccine is safe.

At the point of vaccination, you will receive information about how to report any adverse events. It is essential that any events are reported and investigated. The safety of patients/ recipients is paramount.

If you are concerned about unusual side effects after vaccination please contact your GP or if you need urgent attention contact 999 or attend your local emergency department.

You can report side effects that you are concerned to the COVID-19 vaccination, or any other medicine or vaccine, through the MHRA Yellow Card Scheme at https://coronavirus-yellowcard.mhra.gov.uk/

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41. What’s in the vaccines?

Patient leaflets explaining the different vaccines and ingredients will be developed and information made available to people prior to vaccination so they can make an informed decision.

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

Pfizer/Biontech: www.gov.uk/government/publications/regulatory-approval-of-pfizer-biontech-vaccine-for-covid-19/information-for-uk-recipients-on-pfizerbiontech-covid-19-vaccine

AstraZeneca: www.gov.uk/government/publications/regulatory-approval-of-covid-19-vaccine-astrazeneca/information-for-uk-recipients-on-covid-19-vaccine-astrazeneca

Moderna: www.gov.uk/government/publications/regulatory-approval-of-covid-19-vaccine-moderna/information-for-uk-recipients-on-covid-19-vaccine-moderna

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42. Do they have any ingredients which are unsuitable for religious groups?

It is important that we all take steps to protect ourselves, our loved ones and the wider community by taking measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The British Islamic Medical Association made statements on the Pfizer and AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines encouraging those eligible to get vaccinated at:

The MHRA have confirmed the Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines do not contain any components of animal origin. None of the vaccines given contain fetal cells in their ingredients.

This 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

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

The Pfizer-BionTech vaccine does not contain any meat derivatives or porcine products. The MHRA have confirmed the COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca does not contain any components of animal origin.

This 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

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44. 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.

Vaccine recipients should be monitored for 15 mins after the Pfizer BioNTech vaccination, with a longer observation period when indicated after clinical assessment.

Individuals with a localised itchy skin reaction, otherwise known as an urticarial reaction (without other systemic i.e. affecting the whole body symptoms) to the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, should receive the second dose of vaccine with prolonged observation (30 minutes) in a hospital (or setting with full resuscitation facilities).  If the first dose was with Pfizer vaccine, then AstraZeneca vaccine can be considered as an alternative (if not otherwise contraindicated).  This could be delivered in a primary care setting but with a 30 minute prolonged observation period.

The Pfizer BioNTech and (when it becomes available) 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.

Many biologics/monoclonal preparations (a type of treatment used for certain conditions including autoimmune disease and cancer) contain PEG or related compounds. Individuals who have a history of systemic allergic reactions (i.e. more serious than just a local reaction, including immediate-onset anaphylaxis) to biologics should not receive Pfizer vaccine except on the expert advice of an allergy specialist.

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

Pfizer/Biontech: www.gov.uk/government/publications/regulatory-approval-of-pfizer-biontech-vaccine-for-covid-19/information-for-uk-recipients-on-pfizerbiontech-covid-19-vaccine

AstraZeneca: www.gov.uk/government/publications/regulatory-approval-of-covid-19-vaccine-astrazeneca/information-for-uk-recipients-on-covid-19-vaccine-astrazeneca

Moderna: www.gov.uk/government/publications/regulatory-approval-of-covid-19-vaccine-moderna/information-for-uk-recipients-on-covid-19-vaccine-moderna

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45. 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. www.odt.nhs.uk/covid-19-advice-for-clinicians/#vaccine

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

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. There is no strong evidence that ethnicity by itself (or genetics) is the single explanation for these higher rates.

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

Individuals with underlying medical conditions as previously stated will be prioritised for the vaccine. We encourage all individuals from the BAME community to attend for vaccination when called, provided there are no contraindications as discussed above.  

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48. Can children get the COVID-19 vaccine?

JCVI advise only older children (aged 12 and over) at very high risk of exposure and serious outcomes, such as older children with severe neuro-disabilities and recurrent respiratory infections that require residential care, should be offered vaccination with either the Pfizer-BioNTech or the AstraZeneca vaccine. Clinicians should discuss the risks and benefits of vaccination with a person with parental responsibility, who should be told about the limited safety data available for the vaccine in children aged under 16 years. The JCVI have advised that there is currently no data to support the use of the vaccine in younger children.

On 26th January the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and the Royal College of General Practitioners published a statement on this and it can be found here: https://www.rcpch.ac.uk/news-events/news/message-paediatricians-general-practitioners-children-young-people-covid-19

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49. I have a blood clotting problem, or 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. 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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50. 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 www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/coronavirus-covid-19-consumer-advice-about-scams

Information on COVID-19 Vaccine Fraud provided by Action Fraud can be found at the following link: Coronavirus vaccine scams warning | Action Fraud

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51. I think I have received 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, forward 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.

Please ensure your GP has your up to date contact details so that you can be contacted to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as appropriate.

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Vaccination at GP Practices

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52. Who are GPs vaccinating?

GPs have been asked to vaccinate their at risk patients, using the JCVI priority groups in order, and moving through these groups as their vaccine supply allows.

The groups for GPs to call and vaccinate at present, in priority order are:

  1. Patients over 80 (DoB on or before 31 March 1941) and practice staff
  2. Patients over 70 (DoB 1 April 1941 to 31 March 1951) and patients aged 18 to 64 who are Clinically Extremely Vulnerable.
  3. Adults aged 18 to 64 years in an at-risk group and carers* and any patients aged 65+ or CEV patients who have not attended the vaccination centres

*those identified by the GP who are the sole or primary carer of an elderly or disabled person who is at increased risk of COVID-19 mortality and clinically vulnerable.

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53. Do I need to contact my GP to book an appointment?

No, do not contact your GP.

Your GP will contact you when it is your turn on the priority list to be vaccinated and they will advise you when and where to go.

GP Practices are extremely experienced in delivering vaccination programmes and how and where to run their COVID-19 vaccination clinics.

Patients will be vaccinated according to a priority list set by the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

Everyone who is invited for vaccination is strongly urged to get it.

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Booking online and by telephone

For more information on how to book your vaccination online or by telephone, please visit Get Vaccinated | COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Northern Ireland (hscni.net)

 

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