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Information on a COVID-19 vaccine, who will get it and when.

First published:
10 September 2020
Last updated:

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Why are vaccines important?

Vaccines are responsible for saving millions of lives every year.

Vaccines teach your immune system how to protect you from diseases.

It's much safer for your immune system to learn this through vaccination than by catching the diseases and attempting to treat them.

Vaccines can reduce or even eradicate some diseases, if enough people are vaccinated.

Since vaccines were introduced, diseases like smallpox and polio that used to kill or disable millions of people are gone from the UK.

Other diseases like measles and diphtheria have been reduced by up to 99.9% since the vaccines were introduced.

If people stop having vaccines, it's possible for infectious diseases to quickly spread again.

Can vaccination end the pandemic?

The long term response to the COVID-19 pandemic requires a safe and effective vaccine to be available for all who need it.

Mass vaccination is our best chance to end the pandemic, so you can get back to doing the things you love without restrictions.

Vaccination will reduce the risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19. Being vaccinated for COVID-19 is the best way to protect yourself, your family and others.

Most people have said they would get the vaccine when it’s available. But there will be some individuals who may not be able to have it for medical reasons. Vaccination will not be mandatory.

Until vaccination is widely available, you should continue to take action to prevent the spread of coronavirus. This includes regular hand washing, social distancing, and wearing a face covering when you can't keep your distance.

When will a vaccine be available?

Many potential vaccines for COVID-19 are being studied to see if they’re effective and safe. It’s hoped small quantities of a vaccine could be available for those at the highest risk before the end of the year.

All vaccines go through several phases of testing. In the first stages of trials some potential COVID-19 vaccines prompted an immune response with no major safety concerns.

This work is happening currently. Potential UK-made vaccines are being tested on large numbers of people in Wales and many other countries around the world.

Once a new vaccine is being used in the UK, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) carry on monitoring it for side effects.

UK governments, including Wales, have ordered millions of doses of promising COVID-19 vaccines.

We don’t know which vaccine will be available first, or when, but it’s hoped a COVID-19 vaccination programme could start in late 2020 for those most at risk.

This process has been faster than usual because people have been working together in new ways to deliver a vaccine.

Researchers have worked with regulators and ethical committees to fast-track the time it takes to get to approval. For a vaccine to reach the general public it will have to be authorised for use by experts. This will only happen if a vaccine works and is safe. 

Who will get the vaccine?

It won’t be immediately available for everyone. Getting enough doses to enough people will take a while after a vaccine becomes available.

When vaccines against COVID 19 are first approved, there will be a limited supply. The first doses will be reserved for the people who need them most.

Individuals at highest risk of exposure to the virus will receive the vaccine initially. This means the vaccine will likely be offered to frontline health and social care staff. People in certain high risk groups will follow.

We are still developing understanding of who is most at risk. A UK national body (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation) will review emerging evidence and make recommendations.

At this stage, children are not being considered as one of the groups for vaccination.

In the lead up to the vaccine being available to the initial priority groups, people will be notified of how and where to get the vaccine.

What’s in vaccines?

Vaccines are among the safest medicines the NHS provides.

Vaccines contain a small amount of bacteria, virus or toxin that's been weakened or destroyed in a laboratory first. Some contain an instruction to a cell to make a small part of the genetic protein that makes up the virus (viral DNA) and trigger an immune response.

You can read more about what's in vaccines on the Oxford University Vaccine Knowledge Project website.

How will a COVID-19 vaccine work?

A successful vaccine needs to trigger the body’s defences to develop immunity.

Some of the vaccines in late-stage trials have created an immune response. This happens by producing antibodies and specialised white blood cells (T cells) that kill cells infected with coronavirus.

Different vaccines may work better in some people than others - this will become clear in the trials and in early use. This can depend on factors such as age and general health.

Protection from vaccines may last for a short time, like flu vaccines, or a longer time like measles mumps rubella vaccines. We don’t know yet how long protection from a COVID-19 vaccine will last.

Do people still need a seasonal flu jab?

Yes, you should still get your flu jab. This more important than ever this year, to help prevent avoidable visits to the GP or admissions to hospital. The COVID-19 vaccine will not protect against seasonal flu.

People who are at high risk of COVID-19 are also those most at risk from flu. Flu vaccines have been used for many years and are very safe.

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