A guide to COVID-19 vaccines in England

Frontline health and social care workers are one of the first groups to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Here’s how you can receive it and how it will benefit you. 

At the beginning of December, the first COVID-19 vaccine was approved in England, which was a major development in the pandemic. Elderly people with pre-existing illnesses along with health and social care workers are the first eligible group to receive the vaccine. Whilst it’s not mandatory to get vaccinated, it is highly recommended, especially for high-priority groups. We understand that many people are concerned about how safe the COVID-19 vaccine is and how fast it was developed. We’ve covered what you need to know about the vaccine in this blog to give you peace of mind.

Who gets the vaccine first? 

People living in England have been divided into more vulnerable and less vulnerable groups. Vulnerable groups are seen as high-priority groups and should receive the vaccine first. The majority of high-priority groups consist of older people and people with pre-existing, severe illnesses. High priority groups also include frontline health and social care workers as they are at higher risk of being exposed to the virus in their job roles. Vaccinating the frontline workers will help prevent more hospital outbreaks and ensure that enough staff are able to care for people who are severely suffering from COVID-19.

I am a care home worker or a frontline health and social care worker. How and where can I get the vaccine? 

You need to be registered with a GP surgery in England to be able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. If you have been identified as part of the high priority groups, you will have either already received or will soon receive a letter, phone call, email or text inviting you to make an appointment for your vaccination. After being contacted, you should head over to this NHS site to book an appointment. You will need to book two appointments as there are two doses of the vaccine. The first dose will give you a good level of protection from the virus. After 11 to 12 weeks, you will receive the second dose and have full immunity against COVID-19.

How effective and safe is the vaccine?

At the moment, there are two different types of COVID-19 vaccines available for use in England, with more vaccines being developed. As COVID-19 vaccines are quite new and – in comparison to other vaccines – have been developed in a short amount of time, many people are concerned about the safety and effectiveness of them. However, every vaccine that is approved in England has gone through several safety checks and meets strict criteria. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was tested on 42,000 people before being approved for use. Only eight people who were in the vaccination group fell ill with COVID, meaning that the vaccine is 95% effective – much higher than required from the World Health Organisation (WHO). The COVID-19 vaccine is more effective than the flu vaccine, which is around 70% effective. Millions of people around the world have already been vaccinated and reports of any serious side effects or allergic reactions have been very rare. 

How does the COVID-19 vaccine work? 

For the development of the COVID-19 vaccine, scientists have used a new technology where the vaccine contains information that helps your body create a harmless spike protein, which is unique for the COVID-19 virus. This spike protein does not contain the whole and live virus, which is why it cannot cause the virus and make you ill with COVID-19. The body then automatically creates antibodies and cells that are required to fight the virus. If people experience symptoms, such as a fever, after receiving the vaccine, this is actually normal and means that your body is building a protection against COVID-19. 

These so-called mRNA vaccines will not change your DNA. It only teaches your body to build a protein that triggers your body’s immune response. It does not enter the part of your body cells – the nucleus -, where your DNA is saved, so it never interacts and therefore can’t change your DNA.   

What are the benefits of getting the COVID-19 vaccine?

If you have had COVID-19 before, it may offer natural protection, but it’s unknown how long this natural protection will last. Furthermore, COVID-19 can cause serious and life-threatening complications and the long-lasting effects are still unclear. Compared to natural immunisation, vaccines against COVID-19 will give you long-standing protection from the virus without having been exposed to it. It’s an important step to end the pandemic and allow us to return to normality.

Getting the COVID-19 vaccine is not mandatory in the UK and should be everyone’s own choice. But we would strongly encourage people that are at higher risk of being exposed to the virus, such as health and social care staff,  to have the vaccine to protect you and those around you. If you need any more information, please do not hesitate to contact us or refer to the NHS guidance page.