COVID-19 vaccine

The NHS has planned extensively to deliver the largest vaccination programme in our history. The first COVID-19 vaccine (Pfizer/BioNTech) has been rigorously tested and confirmed as safe and highly effective by the expert Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine rollout began on 8 December 2020 and the second vaccine, Oxford University/AstraZeneca, in early January 2021. A third Covid vaccine, Moderna was approved by the MHRA in January.

In south east London (SEL) the COVID-19 vaccine is available through eight Hospital Hubs, 22 Primary Care Networks (groups of GP practices) and three pharmacies. These have been opened in a phased approach with the last PCN sites opening in the week commencing 11 January and the pharmacies from 18 January. As more vaccines become available more sites will continue to open on a weekly basis.

A mass vaccination site opened on the 11 January at the Excel Centre in London and appointments are made through a national booking service.

18/01/21 Note: In the coming weeks we are aiming at opening 6 mass vaccination sites in south east London, one per borough.

The first SEL vaccine was issued to a patient at Guy’s Hospital, and the vaccination team was joined by the Prime Minister who oversaw proceedings – see our article here.

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine is safe and effective and gives you the best protection against coronavirus.

Click below for the latest information on…

>> Who can get the vaccine
>> Why can’t everyone get the Covid-19 vaccine now
>> Advice if you’re of childbearing age, pregnant or breastfeeding
>> How is the COVID vaccines given
>> Why are you postponing second doses
>> How safe are the COVID-19 vaccines
>> Effectiveness of the vaccines
>> Next steps

>> Full FAQs – Vaccine coverage and eligibility
>> Full FAQs – Vaccine safety and efficacy/effectiveness
>> Full FAQs – Operational plans

>> Public resources

Who can get the COVID-19 vaccine

The NHS is currently offering the COVID-19 vaccines to people most at risk from coronavirus.

The vaccine is being offered in some hospitals and hundreds of local vaccination centres run by GPs. It’s being given to:

  • people aged 80 and over
  • people who live or work in care homes
  • health care workers at high risk
  • as of week commencing 18 January people aged between 70-79 will invited in a phased approach.

To be invited for a vaccination you will need to be registered with a GP surgery in England. You can register with a GP if you do not have one.

Why can’t everyone get a COVID-19 vaccine now

The order in which people will be offered a vaccine is based on advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) – see an explainer video here.

Read the latest JCVI advice on priority groups for the COVID-19 vaccination on GOV.UK.

Some south east London GPs are reporting that patients have already been asking for the Covid-19 vaccine and are then confused and disappointed when turned away.

We’re keen to highlight one particular leaflet which explains the current eligibility and availability criteria – see here.

Please wait to be contacted – do not contact your practice to ask for the COVID-19 vaccine. We have not forgotten about you and when it is your turn the NHS will contact you.

When it is the right time you will receive an invitation to come forward – this could be by letter, text or phone call, either from their GP or NHS England. This communication will provide all the information you will need to book appointments, including their NHS number.

When you get an appointment please attend, and only turn up five minutes before your slot to avoid waiting a long time or standing in queuesEveryone who has an appointment will get the vaccine. 

Advice if you’re of childbearing age, pregnant or breastfeeding

There’s no evidence the COVID-19 vaccine is unsafe if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, but more evidence is needed before you can be routinely offered the vaccine.

The vaccine should only be considered for use in pregnancy when the potential benefits outweigh any potential risks for the mother and baby.

Women should discuss the benefits and risks of having the vaccine with your healthcare professional and reach a joint decision based on individual circumstances. Women who are breastfeeding can also be given the vaccine.

Read the latest COVID-19 vaccine advice if you’re pregnant, may get pregnant or are breastfeeding.

How is the COVID-19 vaccines is given?

The COVID-19 vaccine is given as an injection into your upper arm. It is given as two doses with the second dose of the vaccine given up to 12 weeks after the first dose.

Why are you postponing second doses?

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 after two weeks – 89% for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and 74% for the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.

This decision will allow us to get the maximum benefit for the most people in the shortest possible time and will help save lives.

Getting both doses remains important so we would urge you to return for it at the right time.

How safe are the COVID-19 vaccines

The vaccines have been developed by Pfizer/BioNTech, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Moderna. All of these have approved for use in the UK and have met the strict current 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 UK has some of the highest safety standards in the world.

Other vaccines are being developed but they will only be available on the NHS once they have been thoroughly tested to make sure they are safe and effective.

So far, thousands of people around the world 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

Read about the approved Moderna vaccine for COVID-19 by MHRA on GOV.UK

Effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines

The MHRA have said these vaccines are highly effective, but to get the best protection people need to come back for the second dose – this is really important.

To ensure as many people are vaccinated as quickly as possible with the first dose, and get at least a good level of immunity, the Department for Health and Social Care now advise that the second dose of the vaccines should be scheduled up to 12 weeks after the first.

Full protection kicks in around a week or two after the second dose, which is why it’s also important that when you do get invited, you act on that and get yourself booked in as soon as possible.

Like any other vaccine, there is a small chance you might still get coronavirus even if you have had a vaccine.

Therefore, it is still important to:

  • continue to follow social distancing guidance
  • wear something that covers your nose and mouth in places where it’s hard to stay away from other people

Read more about why vaccines are safe and important, including how they work and what they contain.

COVID-19 vaccine side effects

Most side effects 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

You can take painkillers, such as paracetamol, if you need to.

If you have a high temperature you may have coronavirus or another infection.

If your symptoms get worse or you are worried, call NHS 111.

It is very rare for anyone to have a serious reaction to the vaccine (anaphylaxis). If this does happen, it usually happens within minutes of receiving the vaccine where trained clinical professionals are on hand to attend to you immediately.

Anyone with a previous history of extreme allergic reactions will be issued the vaccine in a high controlled environment such as a hospital site. If you have a history of anaphylaxis reactions please discuss this with your GP when they contact you for your vaccine appointment and they will refer you to a more appropriate site.

More information on possible side effects can be found at www.nhs.uk/covidvaccine

COVID-19 vaccine ingredients

The two approved COVID-19 vaccines do not contain any animal products or egg, and are therefore suitable for vegetarians and vegans.

The British Islamic Medical Association have produced a helpful guide for the Muslim community which can be found at www.britishima.org/pfizer-biontech-covid19-vaccine

Next steps

As more vaccines become available, more sites will open and the NHS will be able to offer the vaccines to more groups of people and in more ways, but this will be a marathon over the coming months, not a sprint:

  • We will keep expanding the programme as we get more vaccines.
  • To ensure we are able to go as fast as supply allows, we have been recruiting and training more vaccinators and support staff from across the NHS and outside of it and SEL are getting a tremendous response for roles advertised.
  • All of these will be trained, assessed, and supervised, just like regular NHS vaccinators.

The public are vital to really help the NHS deliver this effectively to those who need it most. Our asks are:

  • The NHS will contact you when it’s the right time to come forward so please don’t seek a vaccine before then, it adds pressure to an already pressurised system if you do.
  • Please act on the invitation when it arrives and make sure to attend your appointments when they are made.

This information above is correct as at 20/01/2021.

FAQs – Vaccine coverage and eligibility


FAQs – Vaccine safety and efficacy/effectiveness


Operational plans


See below for the latest public information resources on the COVID-19 vaccine: