So You've Had Your Covid Vaccine. Now What?

Here's your guide to life before and after the coronavirus vaccine.

More than two million people in the UK have now received the Covid-19 vaccine – a figure that’s expected to surge in the coming weeks with the opening of mass vaccination centres.

We’ve pulled together everything you need to know as more people get their jab. Here’s your guide to life before and after the vaccine.

Who can get the vaccine?

This priority list, as set out by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI, is as follows:

  1. residents in a care home for older adults and their carers
  2. all those 80 years of age and over and frontline health and social care workers
  3. all those 75 years of age and over
  4. all those 70 years of age and over and clinically extremely vulnerable individuals
  5. all those 65 years of age and over
  6. all individuals aged 16 years to 64 years with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality
  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

People due their vaccine will be contacted via a letter from the NHS or their local health board.

If you’re in a priority group but haven’t been contacted yet, you’re advised to wait for your letter – a recent text message sent out by the NHS asked people not to contact their GPs to book a vaccine as the service is currently very busy.

Where can you have the vaccine?

So far, vaccines have been distributed via hospitals and GP surgeries, however new NHS mass vaccinations centres are opening which will allow hundreds of thousands more patients to receive the jab.

People aged 80 and over are now being invited by letter to book at the new vaccination centres. Those who attend must be aged 80 or over and living no more than 30 to 45 minutes (car journey) from one of the seven new sites.

These are:

  • Ashton Gate in Bristol (South West)

  • Epsom racecourse in Surrey (South East)

  • Excel Centre in London (London)

  • The Centre for Life (North East and Yorkshire)

  • Eithiad Tennis Club in Manchester (North West)

  • Robertson House in Stevenage (East of England)

  • Millennium Point in Birmingham (Midlands)

Nurses, doctors, physios and other NHS staff working nearby are also being vaccinated at the centres, along with social care and care home workers.

Boots pharmacy is also setting up a mass vaccination site in its Halifax pharmacy, where it will be administering the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. Two additional vaccination sites in Huddersfield and Gloucester will soon open.

Can you choose which vaccine you get?

Three Covid-19 vaccines have been approved for use in the UK, but only two are currently available. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine are currently been distributed to vulnerable groups. The Moderna vaccine, approved on January 8, won’t be distributed until the spring.

It’s very unlikely people will be able to decide which vaccine they have. With a strict schedule in place for vaccinating as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, you will need to have the vaccine that you’re allocated. This isn’t out of the ordinary – there are several types of flu vaccine, for example, and people are given the most appropriate vaccine relevant to their age and health.

Who will give you your vaccine?

Mainly GPs and medical professionals. More than 80,000 people have now trained to deliver the vaccines through the large vaccination centres and will be deployed as supplies allow the programme to expand. These include current and former NHS staff, clinicians from the independent sector and allied health professionals like physios, among others.

There will also be three types of role staffed by St John Ambulance volunteers at vaccination centres, including: fully trained vaccinators, post vaccination observers and patient advocates.

How to prepare for your vaccine

You don’t need to do an awful lot to prepare. However, it’s useful to bear a couple of things in mind. Firstly, if you’re feeling unwell around the time of your vaccine, you should rearrange your appointment. You should not attend a vaccine appointment if you are self-isolating, waiting for a Covid-19 test or unsure if you are fit and well, according to government advice.

Some experts have suggested people who receive the Covid-19 vaccine should abstain from drinking before and after having the jab, as alcohol can alter the way your immune system works. Professor Sheena Cruickshank, an immunologist from the University of Manchester, told the BBC: “You need to have your immune system working tip-top to have a good response to the vaccine, so if you’re drinking the night before, or shortly afterwards, that’s not going to help.”

Dr Tony Rao, a researcher in alcohol and dementia at King’s College London, and consultant psychiatrist, told HuffPost UK: “As alcohol is known to suppress the immune response, the safest option would be not to drink for a few days before and after the vaccine has been given, although we need further research to be able to inform us as to the precise length of time required.”

How long does the vaccine take to work?

It’s important you still follow all the government guidelines around Covid-19, as it can take a week or two for your body to build up some protection – and even then, you need to be careful. Anyone who has had the vaccine should continue to follow lockdown rules and pay particular attention to hand-washing, wearing face masks in public places and keeping two metres away from other people.

This is because you can still catch Covid-19 after having the first dose of the vaccine, which offers less protection than having two doses. Having the second dose will give you the best protection against the virus – however, as with all vaccines, it’s still not 100% foolproof.

What precautions do you need to take?

“It is absolutely vital that recipients of the vaccine realise that, especially in the first 14 days or so they have no protection against Covid by the vaccine, and must continue to use caution by distancing and mask-wearing,” says Professor Stephen Evans, an expert in pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

“Getting the vaccine is not a licence to ignore the virus. Even after 14 days, the distancing etc should continue, since even with two doses, there is no 100% guarantee of protection. Eventually, we would expect the effect of vaccinating many people and with adherence to lockdown measures and distancing, that the numbers of people infected will fall, but that is months away.”

Can the Covid vaccine have side effects?

As with all medicines, vaccines can cause side effects. Most of the side effects related to the Covid-19 vaccines are mild and short-term, and not everyone gets them. Common side effects include:

  • having a painful, heavy feeling and tenderness in the arm where you had your injection. This tends to be worst around 1 to 2 days after the vaccine

  • feeling tired

  • headache

  • general aches, or mild flu-like symptoms

Although feeling feverish is not uncommon for two to three days after having the vaccine, a high temperature is unusual and may indicate you have Covid-19 or another infection.

An uncommon side effect is swelling of the glands. Rest and take the normal dose of paracetamol (follow the advice in the packaging) to help make you feel better, according to government advice. These symptoms normally last less than a week, but if your symptoms worsen or you are concerned, call NHS 111.

If you do seek advice from a doctor or nurse, make sure you tell them about your vaccination (show them the vaccination card) so that they can assess you properly. You can also report suspected side effects of vaccines and medicines online via the Yellow Card scheme or by downloading the Yellow Card app.

Does the vaccine stop you transmitting Covid?

The main goal of the vaccines is to stop people from becoming severely sick with Covid-19. So if you receive the vaccine, you could still catch the virus and be asymptomatic, and then unknowingly pass it on to other people.

There is early discussion that vaccines should have some effect on transmission. Both the Pfizer and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines reduce the incidence of symptomatic infection and so are “likely” to reduce the R value and contribute to an overall reduction in transmission, Professor Paul Hunter, an expert in medicine at University of East Anglia, previously told HuffPost UK. But we don’t know this for certain and further data is needed.

How efficient are the different vaccines?

“Vaccine efficacy” refers to the percentage reduction in disease incidence (so in this case, Covid-19 symptoms) in a vaccinated group compared to an unvaccinated group.

So, with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, trials showed a 95% reduction in new cases of symptomatic disease in the vaccine group compared with the placebo group. The Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine was 70.4% effective at preventing symptomatic Covid-19 occurring in the vaccine group compared with the placebo group.

It’s important to note these were the results of clinical trials. In real world conditions, these figures might be lower and some people may still develop severe symptoms of the virus and require hospitalisation.

When will you get your second vaccine dose?

While guidance initially stated people should receive their second vaccine dose within three weeks of the first, this has now been amended. You could be called for your second dose anywhere between three and 12 weeks after the first.

Your next appointment should be written on the vaccine record card you will be given after getting your first dose. This card acts as a reminder for people about their second dose of the vaccine, rather than being an “immunity passport”, health secretary Matt Hancock stressed.

Can you still get Covid-19 after two doses?

Yes, you can, but the chances of developing severe symptoms are reduced with each dose of the vaccine you have. Some people may still get Covid-19 despite having a vaccination (and both doses) – but this should be less severe than if they hadn’t been vaccinated.