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The coronavirus vaccine and booster programme

 

What do we know about the coronavirus vaccine?

There are 3 vaccines approved for use in the UK:

  • Pfizer-BioNTech
  • Oxford-AstraZeneca
  • Moderna.

The UK regulator and Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) have assessed all the vaccines to be safe and able to offer a ‘high’ level of protection against becoming severely unwell with coronavirus.

Each vaccine initially required 2 doses to be fully effective, with additional 'boosters' now being administered, as of September 2021. Information on the booster programme can be found below, including further updates announced at the end of November 2021, in light of the new variant of concern, Omicron.

Receiving the coronavirus vaccine, including your booster jab

All adults in Wales have been eligible for some time to receive their 2 dose vaccine under the initial roll out. Anyone who has still not had their intial 2 dose vaccine can contact their Local Health Board for an appointment - visit the NHS Wales website for further information.

When the vaccination programme first began in December 2020, those at most risk were prioritised first, such as:

  • people living in care homes;
  • those aged 50 and over;
  • people with underlying health conditions; and
  • carers.

The Welsh Government published the priority list order in their ‘Vaccination Strategy for Wales’, plus we have also included the information here.

The same order of priority is being used when sending out invites for people to have a third dose COVID-19 booster vaccine (in some cases there may also be the opportunity to co-administer the COVID-19 booster vaccine and flu vaccine, but only where timing and other logistics allow).

Due to the emergence of the Omicron variant, the JCVI recommended an acceleration to the booster vaccination programme, by the following means (the Welsh Government announced on 29 November 2021 that it would be accepting these recommendations in full):

  • All adults over 18 are now eligible for a booster, though priority should still be given to older adults and those most at risk.
  • Booster doses should be offered at a reduced minimum of three months after completion of the initial 2 dose course (previously a 6-month interval was being used).
  • Individuals who are severely immunosuppressed who have completed their primary course of 2 doses, plus their booster, should be offered a further booster dose, with a minimum of three months between their first booster and the second.

According to the Welsh Government, "the extent of protection COVID-19 vaccines will provide against the Omicron variant is not yet known, but the JCVI felt that accelerating the programme would maximise protection for individuals. Through extending eligibility and reducing the interval for booster, the aim is to reduce the impact of the new variant on the population, ahead of a wave of infection. The JCVI will continue to monitor the position as more data becomes available".

You don't need to contact the NHS to get an appointment for your booster. You will automatically receive an invitation to attend an appointment when it is your turn. However, if your contact details have changed lately, make sure your GP practice has the most up to date information.

The Welsh Government has advised that it is important that those now eligible for a booster dose take up the offer, as there is the possibility of reduced immunity from their previous doses over time.

Where will I receive my vaccination?

Vaccinations will take place at one of the following settings:

  • at a hospital;
  • in the community – through GPs and pharmacists; or
  • in specially designated vaccination centres.

If you can't travel to get a vaccine, you should still be contacted. The NHS can make special arrangements for people who are housebound.

Be aware of scams

Please be aware that scam calls or text messages relating to the vaccine have been circulating, requesting personal details. The vaccine is only available from the NHS and they will never ask you for this information, or for you to make payment as the vaccine is free of charge. The NHS will never:

  • ask for your bank account, card details, PIN or banking passwords;
  • arrive unannounced at your home to administer the vaccine; or
  • ask for documentation to prove your identity, such as a passport or utility bills.

If you receive a call, text or other communication that you think might be a scam, hang up or delete the text and report it to Action Fraud, including the number that was used to contact you. Action Fraud is the reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime.

What happens after I've had my vaccination? 

A first vaccine dose will provide you with some protection, though you won't recieve the full benefit until a few weeks after your second dose as it takes a bit of time for your immune system to respond to the vaccine. There is also evidence of possible reduced immunity over time, hence the booster vaccine programme.

Even after your vaccine doses, any government rules and restrictions in place will still apply to you. This is because:

  • No vaccine is 100% effective. Even after you’ve waited those first few weeks, and following your second dose (or a booster dose), your vaccination may not offer you complete protection from becoming unwell with coronavirus, though in these instances the symptoms should be less severe (you should still self-isolate and get a test if you get any coronavirus symptoms in the period after your vaccination).
  • Restrictions of varying kinds will remain in place as long as there are large numbers of people in the UK with coronavirus.
  • It’s possible that after vaccination you could still catch coronavirus but have no symptoms, so be able to pass it on unknowingly to someone else.

In general, the purpose of a vaccine is always the same: to train our immune system to respond to a germ as if it has seen it before and remembers how to tackle it. Vaccines teach our bodies to recognise antigens. This is the part of the virus that attaches to the cells in our body – something they need to do to replicate and cause an infection. After vaccination, if the virus gets into our body, our immune system should remember what to do and produce antibodies to fight it. This means the infection shouldn’t get a chance to take hold and we shouldn’t become unwell with the virus (however, as stated above, it can’t be guaranteed that they are 100% effective in all situations).

How have the coronavirus vaccines been developed so quickly?

Developing a vaccine often takes some time. This is usually because research and pharmaceutical companies can’t commit to funding the whole process. There are often long gaps between phases while organisations wait for funding before moving to the next stage. Even when a vaccine is approved, it takes some time for pharmaceutical companies to set up manufacturing and produce the vaccine in the quantities needed for public use.

As the coronavirus pandemic has had such an impact globally, researchers and pharmaceutical companies have worked together to reduce the amount of time spent waiting between the phases of development.

Funding and approval for these vaccines has been made a priority. Governments around the world have ‘pre-ordered’ doses which means pharmaceutical companies have been able to set up manufacturing for vaccines earlier than usual.

While this collaborative approach means vaccines will be available sooner, it doesn’t mean any shortcuts have been taken. Each vaccine that’s approved for use will have been through all the essential stages in its development.

Are the vaccines safe?

Whilst the vaccines have been developed quickly, they have been extensively tested. The UK medicines regulator (MHRA) and the Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations (JCVI) have stated that the approved vaccines are safe and offer a high level of protection against becoming severely unwell with COVID-19.

The vaccine you receive will be determined by the available stocks in your area, and you will not get a choice about which vaccine you receive. However, if you suffer from severe allergies you should speak to a healthcare professional via contact details provided when you are given your appointment (or to your GP) as the MHRA has advised against giving the Pfizer vaccine to people with a significant history of allergic reactions to medicines, vaccines or food.

When you receive the vaccine, you may experience some side effects that are common to other vaccines, such as the one for flu. These are:

  • A sore arm, particularly in the area you had your injection.
  • Tiredness.
  • Headache.
  • General aches or mild flu-like symptoms.
  • Swollen glands (this only affects a small number of people).

If you do experience any of these side effects, they shouldn’t last too long – they normally pass within a week. But if they don’t clear up or you start to feel worse, you should call NHS 111 Wales to describe your symptoms and let them know you’ve had the vaccine so they can advise you.

Any side effects you experience can also be reported to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency's (MHRA) Yellow Card Scheme

Should I get a vaccine?

Whether or not you decide to get a vaccine is an individual decision. The vaccine isn't compulsory. However, when making any decision there are things worth considering:

  • Being vaccinated means you're much less likely to become ill with coronavirus.
  • Most of the population will have to be vaccinated for this pandemic to come to an end.
  • Any vaccine offered to you will be licensed and approved and will have gone through all the necessary stages of development to make it safe and effective.
  • Your healthcare professional is there to answer any questions or worries you might have about the vaccine.

I've already had coronavirus. Do I still need to get a vaccine?

While your body may have built up some natural immunity to coronavirus if you’ve already had it, we don’t know for certain how long this immunity lasts or how well it protects you from catching it again.

This natural immunity from having an illness doesn’t usually last as long as the immunity of a vaccine, so it’s recommended that if you’ve had coronavirus you do still get a vaccine when it becomes available to you.

How will consent for the vaccine be gained for people with reduced capacity to make decisions about their healthcare?

Everyone who receives a coronavirus vaccine will be required to give consent. Some people who will be offered the vaccine may lack mental capacity to make decisions about vaccination – this may apply to your loved one.

If this is the case, the decision-maker – usually someone’s GP or the person giving the vaccine – will need to follow the legal requirements set out under the Mental Capacity Act.

Further information

Public Health Wales has a detailed Q&A, which provides answers to a further range of questions and queries.

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