Covid-19 vaccinations - Frequently Asked Questions

We’re making rapid progress

The Covid-19 vaccination is the largest vaccine programme in the history of the NHS, and we are making rapid progress here in Sunderland.

As of 1 March, we have provided first doses to over 83,000 people in Sunderland, including older people in care homes, and 95% of people over the age of 70. We are making steady progress in the younger cohorts and those at risk groups.

The NHS is delivering the vaccine through hospital hubs, local vaccination centres provided by groups of GP practices, large-scale vaccination centres for high volumes of people. In Sunderland, we have six GP-led centres at:

  • Bunnyhill Primary Care Centre,
  • Houghton Primary care Centre,
  • Washington Primary Care Centre,
  • Riverview Health Centre,
  • Grindon Lane Primary Care Centre,
  • Millfield Medical Centre.

Some people may also be invited to attend the service at Sunderland’s Nightingale Hospital, Newcastle’s Centre for Life. You do not have to attend these sites as you will also be invited to get a vaccine at a local GP-led centre.

Our teams are working incredibly hard to vaccinate everyone as fast as possible, and we are prioritising patients based on strict national guidelines for age and clinical risk level.

These are the priority groups:

Priority Risk group
1 Residents in a care home for older adults and staff working in care homes for older adults
2 All those 80 and over, and frontline health and social care workers
3 All those 75 years of age and over
4 All those aged 70 and over, and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable individuals (not including those under 16 years of age)
5 All those 65 years of age and over
6 Adults aged 16 to 65 in an at-risk group
7 All those 60 years of age and over
8 All those 55 years of age and over
9 All those 50 years of age and over
10 Rest of the adult population (to be determined)

It is estimated that taken together, groups 1-9 represent around 99% of preventable deaths from Covid-19. You can find more detail on priority groups on the Government website.

This is the largest vaccination programme in NHS history, and it will take time to reach everyone. Our teams can only vaccinate as many patients as supplies allow.

We very much understand that you may feel anxious while waiting your turn, but you do not need to contact your GP surgery.

If you are over 70 and haven’t yet been invited for your vaccination, or have previously received a letter saying you are at high risk of Covid-19 (clinically extremely vulnerable), you can now call 119 or register online to book your jab.

Front line health and social care workers should have been offered vaccination appointments via their employer – if you are employed, please check with your manager.

Front line health and social care workers who are self-employed (such as personal assistants working under personal health budgets, chiropodists, physios etc.) can register for a vaccination.

Please note that you will need to provide some identification (such as a letter, ID badge) to show you are a front line worker. You can book at one of the large vaccination centres at Newcastle’s Centre for Life or the Nightingale Sunderland.

How you can help the NHS

  • Even after having the first vaccine dose, please continue to follow all the guidance to control the virus and save lives – that means staying at home as much as possible and following the ‘hands, face, space’ guidance when you are out.
  • When you are invited, please be sure to attend your booked appointments.
  • Please attend your appointment on your own. If you need assistance, please bring only one person with you. If we have more people attending, it is difficult for us to maintain social distancing.

Getting the vaccine

How will patients be invited for a vaccination?

When it is the right time people will receive an invitation to come forward. For most people this will be a letter, a text or a phone call, either from their GP or the NHS. This letter or text will include all the information a person will need to book appointments.

The NHS is working hard to make sure those at greatest risk are offered the vaccine first. We know lots of people will be eager to get protected but we would ask people not to contact the NHS to get an appointment until they are contacted, unless you have been given specific instruction to do so.

Some people who have been vaccinated by their GP may still get an invitation to a vaccination centre like the Centre for Life. This letter can be disregarded if you have already had your vaccine, or an appointment to have your vaccine, from one of our centres. This letter is not an invitation for a second dose of your vaccine and remember you can wait for an invitation from your GP if you would prefer to be vaccinated there rather than at a mass vaccination centre.

Why is the NHS vaccinating some groups before others?

Independent analysis suggests that one life is saved for every 20 vaccines given to care home residents. For other over-80s, 160 vaccines have to be given to save a life.

The numbers needed to vaccinate per life saved go up as we move down the priority groups. These figures come from actuarial analysis of the pandemic so far, and are completely independent. Getting our most vulnerable vaccinated as quickly as we can while transmission rates are high will undoubtedly save lives.

Why have I been invited to a vaccination centre outside Sunderland?

Some people will get invitations to the mass vaccination centres at the Centre for Life or the Nightingale Hospital, but if you already have your invitation to a local centre, it’s best to keep any appointment you already have.

Why do I have to wait for my vaccination?

This is the biggest vaccination programme in the history of the NHS. Our teams are working incredibly hard and making fantastic progress, but it will take time to reach everyone.

The NHS is offering vaccinations to those at greatest risk from Covid-19 first, in line with recommendations from the Joint Committee for Vaccinations & Immunisations (JCVI). A list of the priority groups in the first phase of the vaccine programme is available on the Government website.

Can I get one privately?

No. Vaccinations will only be available through the NHS for the moment. Anyone who claims to be able to provide you with a vaccine for a fee is likely to be committing a crime and should be reported to the Police 101 service and/or Local Trading Standards.

I have been told to pay for a vaccine

The vaccine is only available on the NHS to people in priority groups and is free. The NHS will contact you when it is your turn to have the vaccine. Anyone offering a paid-for vaccine is committing a crime.

The NHS will never ask you to press a button on your keypad or send a text to confirm you want the vaccine, and never ask for payment or for your bank details.

If you receive a call you believe to be fraudulent, hang up. If you believe you have been the victim of fraud or identity theft you should report this directly to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040. Where the victim is vulnerable, and particularly if you are worried that someone has or might come to your house, report it to the Police online or by calling 101.

About the vaccines

What vaccines for Covid-19 are currently available?

Both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines are now available in our local sites. Both vaccines have been shown to be safe and offer high levels of protection, and have been given regulatory approval by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). A third vaccine has also been approved, Moderna, however this is not currently available at our sites.

Can people pick which vaccine they want?

No. Any vaccines that the NHS provide will have been approved because they pass the MHRA’s tests on safety and efficacy. People are assured that whatever Covid-19 vaccine they get will be effective.

Is the vaccine safe?

Yes. The NHS would not offer any Covid-19 vaccinations to the public until independent experts have signed off that it was safe to do so.

The vaccines approved for use in the UK have met strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness set out by the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Any coronavirus vaccine that is approved must go through all the clinical trials and safety checks all other licensed medicines go through. The MHRA follows international standards of safety.

Thousands of people have been given a Covid-19 vaccine and reports of serious side effects, such as allergic reactions, have been very rare. No long-term complications have been reported.

Read about the approved Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for Covid-19 by MHRA on GOV.UK

Read about the approved Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine for Covid-19 by MHRA on GOV.UK

I am worried that the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine isn’t safe as I’ve heard some countries are stopping using it – should I still have it?

Some European countries have temporarily paused the use of the vaccine as a precautionary measure, following reports of blood clots in a small number of people who had recently had the vaccine.

However, there is no evidence that the blood clots have been caused by the vaccine and the UK regulator, the Medicines Health Regulatory Authority, has said that they are confident the vaccine is safe. This is supported by both the European Medicines Agency (the European regulator for medicines and vaccines) and the World Health Organisation (WHO), who have said the vaccine should is safe and should continue be given.

There were 30 reports of clots among almost five million people given the vaccine across Europe but this is actually less than the number that would be expected to happen naturally. Following the concerns regarding blood clots, AstraZeneca has conducted a review of all safety data, which has shown no evidence of an increased risk of blood clots. This covered more than 17 million people vaccinated in the UK and European Union.

The UK is further ahead its vaccination programme than any other country in the world and so far over 20 million people in England have been vaccinated. It is very important that people still have their COVID-19 vaccine when asked to do so. This is the only protection available against the serious illness caused by Covid-19, which has sadly led to the death of millions of people around the world, and people will continue to be at risk from the disease if they do not take up the offer of a vaccine.

Will the vaccines work with the new strain?

The vaccine remains effective against the dominant circulating variants. Scientists are looking now in detail at the characteristics of the virus in relation to the vaccines. Viruses, such as the winter flu virus, often branch into different strains but these small variations rarely render vaccines ineffective.

Do the vaccines include any parts from foetal or animal origin?

There is no material of foetal or animal origin in either vaccine currently in use. All ingredients are published in the healthcare information on the MHRA’s website.

For the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine information is available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/regulatory-approval-of-pfizer-biontechvaccine-for-covid-19

For the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine information is available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/regulatory-approval-of-covid-19-vaccineastrazeneca

Are there any side effects? 

Like all medicines, the vaccine can cause side effects. Most side effects of the Covid-19 vaccine are mild and should not last longer than a week, such as:

  • a sore arm where the needle went in
  • feeling tired
  • a headache
  • feeling achy
Should people who have already had Covid get vaccinated?  

The MHRA have advised that getting vaccinated is just as important for those who have already had Covid-19. It is advised that if you have had Covid you need to wait four weeks before you can be vaccinated.

Will the Covid-19 vaccine protect me from flu?

No, the COVID-19 vaccine will not protect you against the flu.

Are there any people who shouldn’t have the vaccine?

Anyone with a previous history of allergic reactions to the ingredients of the vaccine should not receive it, but those with any other allergies (such as a food allergy) can now have the vaccine.

The vaccine should not be given to those who have had a previous systemic allergic reaction (including immediate-onset anaphylaxis) to a previous dose of the same COVID-19 vaccine or any component of the COVID-19 vaccine. If you have concerns about this please contact your practice.

What about pregnancy and breastfeeding?

The MHRA has updated its guidance to say that pregnant women and those who are breastfeeding can have the vaccine. Pregnant women can discuss it with a clinician to ensure that the benefits outweigh any potential risks should they wish. Similarly, advice for women planning a pregnancy has also been updated and there is no need for women to delay pregnancy after having the vaccination.

I’ve heard that the Pfizer vaccine can cause fertility problems in women. Is this right?

This claim has been debunked by Full Fact, which found no evidence that the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine causes fertility problems in women. You can read more about this here.

I’m currently ill with Covid-19, can I get the vaccine?

People currently unwell and experiencing Covid-19 symptoms should not receive the vaccine until they have recovered. The guidance says this should be at least four weeks after the start of symptoms or from the date of a positive Covid-19 test.

Getting the second dose

Why are second doses of the vaccine being rescheduled?

The UK Chief Medical Officers have agreed a longer timeframe between first and second doses so that more people can get their first dose quickly, and because the evidence shows that one dose still offers a high level of protection. This decision will allow us to get the maximum benefit for the most people in the shortest possible time and will help save lives.

The biggest factor affecting vaccines is supply, rather than our ability to carry out injections. This means that every second vaccine given in the next few weeks will mean one fewer first vaccine given – and it is the first vaccine that does most to save lives.

Getting both doses remains important so we would urge people to return for it at the right time which will be between 11 and 12 weeks from the first dose.

Will I be at greater risk if I don’t get a second dose after three weeks?

The science suggests that protection comes 10-14 days after the first dose. Trials show that at three weeks, the Pfizer vaccine is 89% effective and the Astra Zeneca vaccine is 73% effective.

In the Astra Zeneca vaccine trial, second doses were given after varying time periods, with no suggestion that a delayed second dose gave inferior protection. There is no immunological reason why protection should wane between 3 and 12 weeks. Scientists are watching very carefully for any evidence that protection reduces between 3 and 12 weeks, and none has been found.

Will I have less long-term protection if I receive the second dose after 12 weeks?

There is no reason to think that a second dose at 12 weeks will give inferior long term protection, and lots of science to suggest this may actually give better long term protection.

For most vaccines, the best time for a booster dose is well beyond three weeks after the primary dose. In fact, a second dose too close to the first dose often means there is a lesser immune response in the long run.

I’m in a vulnerable group. Can I get a second dose after three weeks?

There is no evidence that people in clinically vulnerable groups get any lesser protection from the first dose of vaccine than the general population. Giving people in these groups a second vaccine would delay the first dose for other vulnerable people. We do not have the option of making exceptions.

Find out more

The latest information is available on the NHS website. The BBC has also produced some helpful information about the vaccines in five South Asian languages