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When and how will I get a Covid vaccine in the UK?


When and how will I be able to get a Covid vaccine?

The government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) says its priority is to prevent Covid-related deaths and protect health and social care staff and systems.

Elderly care home residents and their carers are first on the JCVI’s list because their risk of exposure to the virus is higher and because the risk of death closely correlates with older age. They are followed in priority by anyone else over 80 and frontline health and social care workers. Next come those aged 75 and over, then those aged 70 and over – plus clinically extremely vulnerable individuals. The goal is for everyone in these groups to have been offered a first vaccine dose by 15 February, with second doses to be given up to 12 weeks later.

However, Public Health England’s head of immunisation has said that if infection data showed vulnerable groups, such as the over-80s, were well protected by their first shot, then second doses could be delayed to get a first jab to younger people as well.

Next in line to be vaccinated is everyone over the age of 65, then those aged 16-64 who are at high risk of serious illness or death from Covid-19 because of underlying health conditions. After this, vaccinators will incrementally work their way down the age groups until everyone over 50 has received a jab.
The second group comprises 17 million people across the UK, which would take a further seven weeks to Easter on 4 April if the target of 2m jabs a week is achieved.

Together, the above groups are estimated to represent 99% of preventable deaths from Covid-19.

The second phase of vaccination is likely to target those at higher risk of occupational exposure and/or delivering key public services, including teachers and transport workers – although the JCVI hasn’t yet decided which of these groups to prioritise. The rest of the adult population is expected to have been offered a jab by the autumn.

Will there be enough doses?

The UK has ordered 100m doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, which is enough to inoculate 50 million people. Combined with the 40m doses of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, this should be enough to cover the entire UK population – although the government has also ordered 17 million doses of the recently approved Moderna vaccine.

Who will get the Covid jab first?

Who has decided the vaccine is safe to use, and what checks have been carried out?

Trials of the vaccine have happened at breakneck speed, but this doesn’t mean any of the usual regulatory steps have been missed out. Usually, companies would wait for all the data from safety and efficacy trials to amass, before submitting it to regulators in one go. But such is the urgency of the situation that a dedicated team at the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has been conducting a “rolling review” of the data as and when it becomes available from continuing studies.

In order for its vaccine to be approved, Pfizer will have had to submit data from preclinical studies and from continuing clinical trials of the vaccine, involving 43,000 people to date; manufacturing and quality control assessments; and plans for the safe supply and distribution of the vaccine. Scientists from the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control will also have conducted independent tests on batches of the vaccine to ensure they meet the expected safety and quality standards.

It doesn’t stop there. Once the vaccine starts being rolled out health workers must report any adverse event that they or a patient are concerned about. These events will be carefully investigated by the MHRA to determine whether they are likely to have been caused by the vaccine, or are a coincidence.

If there is any doubt about the vaccine’s safety, the MHRA could issue a warning not to give it to certain groups, or even withdraw it if necessary.

Should I contact my GP/pharmacist?

No. Particularly while Covid cases remain high, it is important that people don’t make unnecessary journeys to their GP surgery or place extra demand on phone services such as NHS 111. The NHS will contact people individually once it is their turn to be vaccinated and provide full details of where they should go and what they need to do in order to receive the vaccine.

Where will I go for the vaccine?

Covid-19 vaccines are being delivered at three types of venue: NHS trust “vaccine hubs” at hospital sites; mass vaccination centres at places such as football stadiums, conference buildings and racecourses – these are expected to vaccinate up to 2 million people a week; and at GP surgeries and pharmacies. GPs can also visit care home residents and housebound patients at home without them needing to travel.

Vaccination centres map

Given the freezer requirements of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab, it is unlikely this will be used at the mass vaccination centres or GP surgeries/pharmacies, at least initially. The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is easier to deliver at these sites, because it can be stored and transported at normal refrigerated temperatures of 2C to 8C.

Who will administer it?

The NHS is overseeing the mass vaccination programme, with GPs and others given training to handle and administer the new jab, including retired doctors, pharmacists, district nurses, health visitors and physiotherapists.

Those from outside the NHS who are being targeted for recruitment as vaccinators include airline cabin crew, firefighters and people who are unemployed. They will be paid £11.20 an hour, according to an internal NHS briefing paper.

How far apart will the two doses be administered, and will I be protected after the first?

While there is some evidence to indicate high levels of short-term protection from a single dose of vaccine, a two-dose schedule is what has been approved by the MHRA.

The original plan was to offer priority groups an initial shot of vaccine, followed by a second dose three weeks later. But a rapid increase in the number of Covid-19 cases, combined with the emergence of a more transmissible variant and uncertainty about the supply of vaccine stocks, prompted the JCVI to consider other options.

It calculated that it could get a first shot of vaccine into more arms faster if it pushed back administration of the second dose to 12 weeks afterwards – by which time it is hoped that far more doses of vaccine will become available.

For the Pfizer vaccine, the impact of stretching out the two doses hasn’t been tested in clinical trials. Pfizer cautioned that its trial only investigated giving two doses 21 days apart – far less than 12 weeks. But evidence increasingly suggests that spacing out doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine may be more effective at protecting people.

The main risk is that people’s level of immunity falls before they receive their second dose, putting them at risk of Covid-19 – although this risk would still be lower than if they’d received no vaccine, and would be boosted when they eventually received their second shot.

However, a consensus statement by the British Society for Immunologists said that delaying the booster dose by eight or nine weeks was unlikely make much difference in the longer term.

Who gets the vaccine in what order

Can I pay to get the vaccine privately?

Unlikely. England’s deputy chief medical officer, Jonathan Van-Tam, has said he believes Covid-19 vaccines should be delivered according to clinical priority rather than allowing people to jump the queue if they can afford it.

Although manufacturers could choose to sell their vaccines to private suppliers, Pfizer has said its focus is on delivering the vaccine to the NHS, in line with its agreement with the government.

Will I be able to choose which vaccine I have?

Also unlikely, at least in the short to medium term. The priority will be distributing any available doses to the people who need them as quickly as possible. Other vaccines may become available at different times, but these won’t necessarily be delivered at the same locations, owing to the different storage requirements and shelf lives of the various vaccines. So even if you were allowed to pick and choose, alternatives might not be available.

  • Due to the unprecedented and ongoing nature of the coronavirus outbreak, this article is being regularly updated to ensure that it reflects the current situation as well as possible. Any significant corrections made to this or previous versions of the article will continue to be footnoted in line with Guardian editorial policy.



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