By Philippa Roxby
Those judged to be most at risk from Covid are being vaccinated first. Adults aged 50-54 in England are the latest group to be invited to book an appointment.
They represent the last of the top nine priority groups identified as being at greatest risk from the disease.
More than 25 million people in the UK have now had their first dose – almost half of the UK adult population. Nearly 1.8 million of those have also had a second dose.
NHS England has warned of a reduction in supply in April, but the government insists it will still meet its vaccination targets.
Who is being offered a vaccine now?
Adults aged 50-54 in England are now being officially invited for their first dose.
Two million text messages are being sent out with a link allowing people to book an appointment through the national booking service website. People who cannot go online can call the service on 119.
The over 50s are already being offered the vaccine in Northern Ireland and some parts of Scotland. It is hoped everyone over 50 in Wales will have been offered their first dose by mid April.
Which groups have been given a first dose?
One vaccine dose has already been offered to:
- frontline health and social care staff
- elderly care home residents
- clinically extremely vulnerable people
- everyone over 16 with a health condition which increases their risk from Covid, including everyone on the learning disability register, held by GPs in England, and others with severe learning disabilities identified as being at risk
- adult carers of disabled people and younger adults in care homes
- over 55s
All four nations of the UK follow these priorities, but the roll-out varies between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
When will I get my second dose?
Nearly 1.6 million people have already had their second dose.
During April, the number of second doses given to people will shoot up and probably overtake the number of first doses given. This is so that everyone in the priority groups gets fully vaccinated with two doses within 12 weeks.
Vaccine supplies may also be more limited than normal in April, but the government says the targets to offer one dose to over 50s by mid-April and all adults by the end of July will still be met.
The next people to be offered the jab, may now have to wait until May because of a slight slowing down of supply.
- All those aged 40-49 years
- All those aged 30-39 years
- All those aged 18-29 years
The Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) decided against giving priority to people in particular jobs, such as teaching, because they said this would be more complex to deliver and might slow down the vaccine programme.
It also urged some groups who are at higher risk of needing hospital treatment from Covid to take up the offer of vaccination promptly:
- Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities
- people with a BMI over 30
- those living in deprived neighbourhoods
Can I pay to be vaccinated sooner?
No – this vaccine is being rolled out free to people via the NHS. You can’t jump the queue by paying.
Do the vaccines work against new variants?
Two vaccines – developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca – are currently being used in the UK to protect against Covid-19. A third – from Moderna – has also been approved.
All have been shown to be effective at preventing people from becoming seriously ill and dying from Covid-19.
The Oxford vaccine offers a good level of protection against the ‘Kent’ variant now dominant in the UK.
Early research on other vaccines, including Pfizer, suggest they also protect against this variant.
There are concerns that Covid vaccines may not work as well against variants spotted in South Africa and Brazil, and in some UK variants too – but vaccines can be updated.
Nonetheless, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that the Oxford vaccine should still be used in countries where these variants are present.
Why should I get vaccinated?
Vaccines mean that fewer people will get Covid-19 and those who do are far less likely to go to hospital or to die.
As well as protecting you, vaccines also protect your family, friends and other people you come into contact with.
The first ‘real world’ data from the UK rollout suggests they are doing an excellent job.
Even if new variants develop, new versions of the vaccines are relatively straightforward to organise and the UK regulator says it will fast-track approval of updated vaccines in a matter of months.
Vaccine developers are already updating their jabs with the plan to have them ready by the autumn.
They are likely to be offered as a routine booster against Covid for some groups.
Are two doses needed?
The approved vaccines require two doses to provide the best protection against Covid.
In the UK, people were initially told they would get a second dose three to four weeks after the first. But to ensure a quicker roll-out of first doses, the UK’s chief medical officers extended the gap to 12 weeks.
This approach is now backed by the WHO which says giving two doses eight to 12 weeks apart increases the Oxford vaccine’s effectiveness and provides greater protection.
A recent study found the Oxford vaccine remained 76% effective during the three months after the first dose. There was also evidence it could reduce the spread of the virus.
However, some doctors are worried that a long gap between doses of the Pfizer vaccine could make it less effective.
Can different vaccines be mixed?
The official guidance says everyone should get the same vaccine for both doses.
In very rare circumstances – if only one vaccine is available, or it’s not known which was given for the first dose – a different vaccine can be used.
However, a UK trial is investigating whether mixing vaccines could offer better protection than two doses of the same one.
How many vaccine doses are there?
The UK has ordered seven vaccines and expects to receive 407 million doses – more than enough for every adult to receive two.
Will everyone be vaccinated?
The aim is to vaccinate everyone aged 18 or over in the UK with one dose by the end of July, and the government says it is on track to make this deadline.
The vaccines have not been tested in children so they won’t receive them until more research has been carried out.
Getting a Covid vaccine is not compulsory because experts say this wouldn’t help create public confidence.
What about people with allergies?
A very small number of people have experienced a severe allergic reaction – known as anaphylaxis – when vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine.
You should discuss any serious allergies with your healthcare professional before being vaccinated.
Most people will not be affected in any way, although mild side-effects are possible.
I’m pregnant – can I be vaccinated?
Vaccination should only be considered for pregnant women when the potential benefits outweigh any potential risks.
This may be where the risk of catching coronavirus is high, or where underlying health conditions mean a high risk of Covid complications.
There are no specific safety concerns with the vaccines – but they were not tested on pregnant women.
Women who are breastfeeding can be given either vaccine.
The vaccines have no impact at all on female fertility.
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