COVID-19 Vaccination Programme questions and answers

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Table of Contents

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

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 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 generally have to be registered with a GP in Northern Ireland and aged 18 years and over at 31 July 2021, if you are not registered with a GP in NI but live here or are temporally a resident in NI, you should contact the Department of Health via the following e-mail address and they will advise you how you can be vaccinated COVID-19VaccinationProgramme@health-ni.gov.uk  

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

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2. 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. In Northern Ireland this will be accommodated through administering the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines at the regional Trust vaccination centres . 

The moderna vaccine will be administered at the SSE Arena vaccination centre and at mobile vaccination clinics.

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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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) is an independent group of experts who advise the four nation’s health departments on which vaccines the UK should use and provide advice on order of priority for vaccination.

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

You can find out when you are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Northern Ireland and book your vaccine at www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/get-covid-19-vaccination-northern-ireland

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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 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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7. 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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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 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 to be monitored.  

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9. Can I choose which vaccine I receive?

For details regarding the vaccination role out, with regards to age group, please see the following statement from the NI Department of Health:

http://www.health-ni.gov.uk/news/department-updates-vaccination-programme

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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 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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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.

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 further vaccination until their clotting has completely stabilised. These individuals may be offered vaccination with an alternative 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.

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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?

Millions of people around the world have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

In Northern Ireland, there have been many deaths and thousands more people hospitalised, or with ongoing health complications, after having COVID-19 infection.

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/restrictions) still apply to me if I’ve had the vaccine?

Both doses of 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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17. Once we get a vaccine, can we end restrictions?

Effective vaccines are the best way to protect the most vulnerable from coronavirus are the biggest breakthrough since the pandemic began. It is a huge step forward in the fight against coronavirus, and have prevented thousands of hospital admissions and deaths since their introduction.

As vaccinations continue, 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. How can I get proof of vaccination/a vaccine passport?

The Department of Health is working on a solution to enable proof of vaccination to the agreed standard. It is anticipated that a paper-based option will be available in the first instance, from a specialist printing service. This requires infrastructure to be developed, allowing citizens to request certification which is securely linking to their personal data. Further details will follow shortly. In the meantime it should be noted that neither GP practices or other HSC organisations are able to issue letters for travel purposes.

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19. 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, prevention is better than getting the illness and needing treatment. 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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20. Will the vaccine become a yearly injection like the flu vaccine?

To protect those who are most vulnerable from becoming seriously ill from COVID-19 ahead of the winter, the UK government is preparing for a booster programme based on clinical need to ensure people have the strongest possible protection against COVID-19.

The UK government will publish more details on the booster programme in due course and the final policy will be informed by advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) and the results of clinical trials studying the use of different combinations of approved COVID-19 vaccines.

More information on this booster programme can be found here: www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-secures-extra-60-million-pfizerbiontech-covid-19-vaccines

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21. 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 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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22. 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 are ongoing in children and data is currently limited.

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

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

The mRNA is read by cells, similar to us reading an instruction manual, and instructs them to make specific proteins which mount an immune response in the body, helping to protect it against the virus. The mRNA is destroyed within days by your body. It will not be incorporated into your DNA.

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24. 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.

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25. 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. The purpose of the vaccine is to prevent you from getting COVID-19. This will reduce the chances of you becoming ill with COVID-19 and it may reduce your ability to spread the infection. As the vaccine is new, research is ongoing to examine the extent to which vaccinated people can still pass COVID-19 to others.

Therefore, if you are a household contact of a positive case or are advised by the NI Contact Tracing Service or the STOPCOVID NI App that you are a close contact of a positive case of COVID-19 you still need to self-isolate. You will also be asked to book a COVID test within 48 hours of being identified as a close contact

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26. 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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27. 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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28. 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 (serology). 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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29. 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 two doses, a minimum of 21 days apart. The AstraZeneca and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines can be administered in two 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 (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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30. 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, the AstraZeneca vaccine and the Moderna vaccine, including against severe disease. As the first doses of each vaccine 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.

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31. 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. It is important to get the second dose to provide fuller, longer term protection against COVID-19.

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32. 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 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. 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: Greenbook chapter 14a (publishing.service.gov.uk)

 

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Safety and effectiveness of the vaccine

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33. 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 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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34. 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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35. 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 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 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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36. 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 do not contain living organisms, and so are safe for people with disorders of the immune system.  

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 further vaccination until their clotting has completely stabilised. These individuals may be offered vaccination with an alternative COVID-19 vaccine.

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

You should discuss having the COVID-19 vaccine with your doctor, nurse or midwife. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has amended its previous highly precautionary advice on COVID-19 vaccines and pregnancy or breastfeeding.

Updated JCVI advice for pregnant women and COVID-19 vaccination can be found at the following link: www.gov.uk/government/news/jcvi-issues-new-advice-on-covid-19-vaccination-for-pregnant-women

Although clinical trials on the use of COVID-19 vaccines during pregnancy are not advanced, the available data do not indicate any harm to pregnancy. JCVI has therefore advised that women who are pregnant should be offered vaccination at the same time as non-pregnant women, based on their age and clinical risk group. Pregnant women should discuss having the vaccine with their doctor or midwife.

There is now extensive post-marketing experience of the use of the Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna vaccines in the USA with no safety signals so far (www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/safety/vsafepregnancyregistry.html)

These vaccines are therefore the preferred vaccines to offer to pregnant women of any age, because of the extensive experience of their use in pregnancy. However, pregnant women who commenced vaccination with AstraZeneca, are advised to complete the course with the same vaccine.

If you find out you are pregnant after you have started a course of vaccine, you are advised to complete the course using the same vaccine product during your pregnancy (unless contra-indicated). Alternatively, if you wish you can wait until you have had your baby to complete the course with the same vaccine.

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

www.rcog.org.uk/en/news/vaccine-choice-pregnant-women-welcomed-maternity-royal-colleges/

www.hfea.gov.uk/treatments/covid-19-and-fertility-treatment/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-for-patients/frequently-asked-questions-for-patients-on-coronavirus-covid-19/

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

The latest advice from the JCVI is that women trying to become pregnant or having fertility treatment do not need to avoid pregnancy after vaccination and there is no evidence to suggest that COVID-19 vaccines will affect fertility.

The Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority (HFEA) updated their advice on vaccination on 12 February 2021 based on new guidance from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).  The Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists similarly updated their guidance on 11 February 2021. Further information can be found at the following link:

www.hfea.gov.uk/treatments/covid-19-and-fertility-treatment/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-for-patients/frequently-asked-questions-for-patients-on-coronavirus-covid-19/

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

The JCVI has amended its previous highly precautionary advice on COVID-19 vaccines and pregnancy or breastfeeding. The JCVI's updated advice for pregnant women can be found at the following link: JCVI issues new advice on COVID-19 vaccination for pregnant women - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

If a woman finds out she is pregnant after she has started a course of vaccine, she may complete vaccination during pregnancy using the same vaccine product (unless contra-indicated). Alternatively, vaccination should be offered as soon as possible after pregnancy. Therefore, for pregnant women who have received a first dose of AstraZeneca and are due to receive their second dose, no further action is required and second dose appointments should continue as planned.

Further information can be found at the following links:

www.gov.uk/government/news/jcvi-issues-new-advice-on-covid-19-vaccination-for-pregnant-women

https://www.rcog.org.uk/en/news/vaccine-choice-pregnant-women-welcomed-maternity-royal-colleges/

https://www.hfea.gov.uk/treatments/covid-19-and-fertility-treatment/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-for-patients/frequently-asked-questions-for-patients-on-coronavirus-covid-19/

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42. 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. 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.

Any women who experience a change in menstruation should seek medical advice from their GP or Hospital as appropriate. 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.

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43. 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.

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 and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, although it is not yet clear that these are caused by the vaccines. These cases have been seen mostly in younger men within several days after vaccination. Most of these people recovered and felt better following rest and simple treatments.

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 about 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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44. What’s in the vaccines?

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

A full list of ingredients can be found in Question 42.

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

https://britishima.org/pfizer-biontech-covid19-vaccine

https://britishima.org/operation-vaccination/hub/statements/#VAX

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

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: https://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20201221_nota-vaccini-anticovid_en.html

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: Vaccine give hope — YourNeighbour.org | Equipping Churches in the Covid-19 Crisis

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: Orthodox Union Guidance Regarding Coronavirus - Orthodox Union (ou.org)

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46. 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 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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47. 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 mins 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 (listed below).

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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48. 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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49. 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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50. 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.

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51. 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 children with severe neuro-disabilities and recurrent respiratory infections that require residential care, should be offered COVID vaccination.  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 has advised that there is currently no data to support the use of the vaccine in younger children.

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52. 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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53. 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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54. 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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55. 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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Vaccination at GP Practices

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56. Who are GPs vaccinating?

The following groups of people are being offered vaccination by either GPs, community pharmacies or at regional vaccination centres.

  • Those aged 18 & older
  • those who are clinicly extremely vulnerable aged 16 and over at 31st March 2021 and have a shielding letter
  • those who have an underlying condition aged 16-17 at 31st March, who have a GP letter
  • a letter from your hospital specialist or your GP
  • an email or letter from your employer
  • health and social care workers (aged 18 or over)
  • if you are the main carer (aged 18 or over on the 31st March 2021) of an elderly or disabled person

Further information on vaccination role out can be found here: https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/get-covid-19-vaccination-northern-ireland

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

No, you do not contact your GP, but make sure you GP has your up to date contact details.

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. If you have concerns about whether or not to have the COVID-19 vaccine, speak to your GP or healthcare specialist.

Alternatively if you are eligible you can book your COVID-19 vaccination at a local community pharmacy or at a regional vaccination centre. Information on booking your COVID-19 vaccine can be found here: https://covid-19.hscni.net/get-vaccinated/

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Vaccination at Community Pharmacy

Pharmacies currently only supply the AstraZeneca vaccine at this time. To be vaccinated at Community Pharmacy, you generally have to be registered with a GP in Northern Ireland and aged 40 or over.

If you book with a community pharmacy but are not eligible your appointment will be cancelled.

If you are pregnant or believe you could be pregnant and have not yet received your first vaccination, you cannot currently be vaccinated via the Community Pharmacy COVID-19 vaccination service at this time. Please speak to your Obstetric provider or midwife for advice about getting the COVID-19 vaccination via a Trust vaccination centre.

1.  Click on the map and search for a pharmacy close to or most convenient for you

2.   Click on pharmacy name

3.   Then either click on the weblink to the pharmacy’s online booking system or phone the pharmacy to make an appointment for your COVID-19 vaccination.

4.   **Please note booking systems on the map belong to the individual pharmacies and not Health and Social Care – for issues or queries in relation to booking contact the pharmacy **

 If you are blind or partially sighted and need help in accessing the details of your local participating pharmacy, please contact RNIB at 0303 123 9999. Please note: this is not a booking line and the operator cannot help organise any vaccination appointments. 

RNIB are ready to answer your call Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm and Saturday 9am to 1pm.

Calls cost no more than a standard rate call to an 01 or 02 number, and count towards any inclusive minutes in the same way as 01 and 02 calls. The price of calls varies between different providers, including between landline and mobile companies, so check with your provider if you are unsure.

The email address is: helpline@rnib.org.uk

Each pharmacy will be operating different clinic dates and times. They will also have different arrangements in place for booking appointments. Please contact your desired pharmacy for more information on their individual procedures.

Please do not book multiple appointments at different pharmacies or booking sites as this reduces the number of appointments available.

Please do not attend the pharmacy or vaccination appointment if you are displaying symptoms of COVID-19, or are currently in self-isolation having been identified as a close contact of a positive COVID-19 case. Instead contact the pharmacy to get advice and rearrange your appointment.

You will need proof of your identity in order to receive your vaccination. This ideally should be photographic ID (showing proof of your date of birth), such as passport or driving licence. If this is not available, please contact the pharmacy to see what other forms of identification can be used.

If you do not have the required proof of identification you will not be able to receive your vaccination.

You will be required to wear a face covering (unless exempt). Please also check with the pharmacy if they have any additional infection control procedures in place that you will need to comply with.

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