COVID-19 Vaccination Programme questions and answers

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Information on where to get a vaccine is available here.

Table of Contents

  1. About the vaccine
  2. 1. Why are vaccines important?
  3. 2. What vaccines are 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/restrictions) still apply to me if I’ve had the vaccine?
  18. 17. Once we get a vaccine, can we end restrictions?
  19. 18. How can I get proof of vaccination/a vaccine passport?
  20. 19. What about treatments, are there effective ways to treat COVID?
  21. 20. Will the vaccine become a yearly injection like the flu vaccine?
  22. 21. How effective is the first vaccine injection without getting the second one? 
  23. 22. Have the vaccines been tested in people over 80 years old or just in younger populations?
  24. 23. If I receive a RNA-based vaccine, can it tamper with my DNA
  25. 24. Can I still spread the virus to others if I am vaccinated?
  26. 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?
  27. 26. What percentage of the population needs to get the vaccine to have herd immunity?
  28. 27. Is there gluten in the vaccine as I am coeliac?
  29. 28. Can the COVID-19 vaccine lead to people having a positive COVID-19 nose or throat swab test?
  30. How the vaccine is given
  31. 29. How long is the course of? How many injections and over what period of time?
  32. 30. How long do I have to wait between the first and second doses of the vaccine?
  33. 31. What happens if I don’t go for my second appointment?
  34. 32. How long do I have to wait after getting the vaccine before I can leave the clinic?
  35. 33. Will the vaccine fully protect me against COVID-19?
  36. 34. If I have the vaccine may 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. 56. Where can I get my vaccine?
  59. If you're aged 18 or over, you can receive the COVID-19 vaccination at mobile walk-in vaccination clinics or community pharmacies across Northern Ireland. Those under 18 years of age can receive a vaccine at a mobile clinic
  60. For more information on where you can attend to have your COVID-19 vaccine can be found at the following link:
  61. Vaccination at Community Pharmacy
  62. 57. Can I be vaccinated at Community Pharmacy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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?

There is expected to be enough doses to cover the whole UK population.

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4. Will the vaccine be compulsory?

Northern Ireland 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 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 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 statements from the Northern Ireland Department of Health:

 

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10. Is it a live vaccine?

None of the 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?

Everyone aged 16 and over from 31 July 2021 can get the vaccine. Individuals who are 16 or 17 should be offered a first dose of a Pfizer vaccine.

On the 14 September it was announced that all children aged 12-15 years will be offered one dose of Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine and parental consent will be sought prior to vaccination.

Children ages between 12-15 years who have an underlying health condition as defined by JCVI will receive two doses, 8 weeks apart. ‘At Risk’ groups include chronic respiratory disease, chronic heart conditions, chronic conditions of the kidney, liver or digestive system, chronic neurological disease, endocrine disorders, immunosuppression, asplenia or dysfunction of the spleen and Serious genetic abnormalities that affect a number of systems.

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

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

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

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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 vaccination and seek advice from a health professional regarding their second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

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

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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, if you are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine you should attend even if you have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past or have tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies. 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 eligible, 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?

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 and they are the biggest breakthrough since the pandemic began. They are a huge step forward in the fight against coronavirus, thousands of hospital admissions and deaths since their introduction.

As vaccinations continue, the Government will closely monitor the impact on individuals, on Health and Social Care pressures and on the spread of the virus. The Government will also take into consideration the emergence of new variants which may have an impact on vaccine effectiveness.

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; if successful this should in time lead to a substantial reassessment of current restrictions.

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

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

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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 the antiviral drug remdesivir can reduce the length of illness. Two steroid drugs, dexamethasone and hydrocortisone, have been shown to save lives but only in people who are seriously ill in hospital.

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?

With increasing levels of social mixing and close social contact, it is expected that during winter 2021 to 2022 COVID-19 will co-circulate alongside other respiratory viruses, including seasonal influenza virus. In order to protect those who are most vulnerable from becoming seriously ill from COVID-19 a booster programme will be implemented for the following groups as per JCVI advice published 14/09/2021 that for the 2021 COVID-19 booster vaccine programme individuals who received vaccination in Phase 1 of the COVID-19 vaccination programme (priority groups 1 to 9) should be offered a third dose COVID-19 booster vaccine. This includes:

  • those living in residential care homes for older adults
  • all adults aged 50 years or over
  • frontline health and social care workers
  • all those aged 16 to 49 years with underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk of severe COVID-19 (as set out in the green book), and adult carers
  • adult household contacts of immunosuppressed individuals

The JCVI has recommended a preference for Pfizer/BioNTech to be used as the booster dose regards of the vaccine used in the primary vaccination course. Alternatively, individuals may be offered a half dose of the Moderna vaccine, which should be well tolerated and is also likely to provide a strong booster response.

Where Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines cannot be offered e.g. due to contraindication, vaccination with the AstraZeneca vaccine may be considered for those who received AstraZeneca vaccine in the primary course. See here for the MHRA statement on booster vaccinations.

Further information on booster programme roll out is expected in due course.

At present, it is not known whether recurrent boosters will be required in the long term. This advice on booster vaccination therefore only applies to this highly active phase of the pandemic. This programme is timed to maximise the impact of a booster programme on individual protection against severe disease and to protect the NHS during the winter months.

 

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

Young people who have had a first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine, however, should complete with the same vaccine”

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

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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 protect you from becoming seriously ill from COVID-19 infection. This should also reduce the chances of you being able to spread the infection. Once you are vaccinated you should continue to adhere to public health measures including, social distancing, hand washing and wearing face coverings to keep others safe.

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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?

Guidance for close contacts is available here.

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

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 8 weeks from the first dose. For all the COVID vaccines currently in use in the UK there is evidence of better protection due to an increased immune response where longer intervals between doses in the primary schedule are used.

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

Further information for health professionals on observation time and allergic reactions to the COVID-19 vaccines can be found here: Greenbook chapter 14a (publishing.service.gov.uk)

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 may I be immune for life? Can I still catch COVID-19 after I’ve been immunised?

The duration of protection remains under investigation.

Further details regarding the COVID-19 booster programme including eligible groups can be found in question 20.

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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 vaccination and seek advice from a health professional regarding their second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine These individuals should be considered for a second dose of an alternative COVID-19 vaccine.

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

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

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

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

Yes.

Pregnant and breast feeding women:

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

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

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

Women planning to get pregnant:

There are no plausible physiological mechanisms by which any of the vaccines could affect fertility in women or men. This includes whether you are trying on your own or undergoing fertility treatment. The British Fertility Society has created a helpful page to answer frequently asked questions whilst the RCOG also covers this topic in their FAQs

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

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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, RCOG 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.

Further reading from the British Fertility Society and RCOG is available at:

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) & also cover it in their FAQs:

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

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

Yes.

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

More detailed information can be found here:

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

Yes.

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

Further information can be found at the following links:

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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. Any changes to menstruation post vaccination are usually temporary in nature. The number of reports of menstrual disorders and vaginal bleeding is low in relation to both the number of females who have received COVID-19 vaccines to date and the background rate of menstrual disorders generally. Our advice remains that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks for most people.

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

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

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

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

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

Symptoms of myocarditis and pericarditis include new onset of chest pain, shortness of breath or feelings of a fast-beating, fluttering, or pounding heart.

Should you develop any one or more of these symptoms after your COVID-19 vaccination, you should urgently seek medical assistance.

You can report side effects that you are concerned about to the COVID-19 vaccination, or any other medicine or vaccine, through the MHRA Yellow Card Scheme at 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 44. 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 Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (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 minutes after the Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, with a longer observation period when indicated after clinical assessment.

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

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

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

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

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. Therefore you should avail of the COVID-19 vaccine when you are eligible to do so.

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51. Can children get the COVID-19 vaccine?

On 14 September 2021 it was announced that all children aged 12-15 years will be offered one dose of Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine and parental consent will be sought prior to vaccination.

This announcement was in addition to the statement in August, advising that persons aged 16-17 years old should also be offered a first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

Children ages between 12-15 years who have an underlying health condition as defined by JCVI will receive two doses, 8 weeks apart. ‘At Risk’ groups include chronic respiratory disease, chronic heart conditions, chronic conditions of the kidney, liver or digestive system, chronic neurological disease, endocrine disorders, immunosuppression, asplenia or dysfunction of the spleen and Serious genetic abnormalities that affect a number of systems.

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

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

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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56. Where can I get my vaccine?

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

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Vaccination at Community Pharmacy

The majority of pharmacies are currently only supplying the AstraZeneca vaccine at this time. However initially a small number are providing Moderna COVID-19 vaccinations with new pharmacies being added each week.

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57. Can I be vaccinated at Community Pharmacy?

To be vaccinated at a community pharmacy, you generally have to be registered with a GP in Northern Ireland and meet an eligible age cohort.

However, if you are not registered with a GP in Northern Ireland, speak to the pharmacist for advice on accessing a vaccination.

  • For those aged 40 years or over, you can be vaccinated at those pharmacies providing either AstraZeneca or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine
  • For those aged 18 years or over, you can be vaccinated at those pharmacies providing Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

If you are pregnant or believe you could be pregnant and have not yet received your first vaccination or have received your first Moderna COVID-19 Vaccination, you can be vaccinated via the Community Pharmacy COVID-19 vaccination service at those pharmacies providing Moderna COVID-19 vaccinations.

If you are pregnant or believe you could be pregnant and have received your first vaccination of AstraZeneca, you can be vaccinated with your second dose of AstraZeneca via the Community Pharmacy COVID-19 vaccination service at those pharmacies providing AstraZeneca.

Please speak to your Obstetric provider or midwife for advice about getting the COVID-19 vaccination.

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

If you are eligible, please visit the relevant map of participating pharmacies to see if your desired pharmacy is providing the COVID-19 vaccination service with your desired vaccine choice.

For the map of pharmacies providing AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccinations click here

For the map of pharmacies providing Moderna COVID-19 vaccinations click here [Please note this is a new service and additional pharmacies are being added each week, the map gives the current active locations].

Map instructions

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 a 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. 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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