The Covid-19 Vaccine
Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 and it helps to save thousands of lives every day. Currently, there are 4 vaccines officially approved for use in the UK: Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, Oxford University-AstraZeneca, and Janssen. For each of these vaccines, you’ll get two doses at two separate appointments that are usually 12 weeks apart. The first dose will already give you a certain level of protection against coronavirus, but it’s the second dose that ensures that your protection will last.
The overall goal of the vaccination programme is to vaccinate the whole of the UK population as quickly as possible. But who decides who gets to go first? The official guidance has been created by the Joint Committee on Vaccination Immunisation (JCVI). This is a committee that consists of independent experts that have advised the government on which vaccines should be used and who should get the jab first.
How were the coronavirus vaccines developed so quickly?
Usually, the development of a vaccine is everything but quick and it often takes 10 to 15 years from starting the development until it actually reaches the market. That’s why it’s completely understandable that you might ask yourself how it’s possible that the coronavirus vaccine has been developed in just under a year. So, how was it possible? It was possible because of the urgency of needing a vaccine, hundreds of scientists working on it, thousands of volunteers that were wiling to be a part of the trials, and billions of pounds of funding that were put into it. All these factors meant that the vaccine could be developed and approved much quicker than it usually would. What is super important here is that all of us are aware that no shortcuts were taken in the development and approval of the jabs. This means that it’s just as safe as any other vaccine out there! The main thing that’s been done differently with the coronavirus vaccine was that scientists reviewed the results of the trial as they were coming in rather than waiting until the end which is how it’s usually done. This meant that a process that usually takes years could be done in only a few months.
The 4 vaccines explained
As we already know, there are currently 4 vaccines that are approved for use in the UK: Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, Oxford University-AstraZeneca, and Janssen. But let’s look at each of them in a little more detail.
The Pfizer/BioNTech is an mRNA vaccine that teaches your body how to make the virus spike protein which it uses to gain entry to your cells. With the spike protein there, your immune system will start to respond which means that it will learn how to fight coronavirus should it ever enter your body. Together with Moderna, the two jabs are the first ever mRNA vaccines that made it to market. The probably biggest logistical challenge with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was that it needed to be stored at super cold temperatures in order stay effective. What does super cold mean, though? Super cold in the case of this vaccine means a storage temperature of -70C which required special kinds of freezers that have the capability to go down to a temperature this low. How effective the vaccine is, is very difficult to say as new variants of the virus are developing constantly. And even though the vaccine might not protect you from catching coronavirus, it will most likely protect you from suffering a severe case of COVID-19. If you’re interested in more detail about the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, follow this link.
Overall, the Moderna vaccine is fairly similar to the one developed by Pfizer/BioNTech. It is also a mRNA vaccine and has shown to be highly effective in preventing both symptomatic and asymptomatic infections with coronavirus. The Moderna jab is probably the one that’s been used the least of the three but that doesn’t have anything to do with its effectiveness or safety. The reason for this is most likely found in the price of the jab as the Moderna vaccine is the most expensive one of the three. The UK is believed to have spent between £24 and £28 pounds per dose which is quite steep compared to the averagely £3 for the AstraZeneca and £15 for the Pfizer/BioNTech. If you want to know more about the Moderna vaccine, read here.
The Oxford University-AstraZeneca is different to Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna as it’s a viral vector vaccine. It works by injecting the body with a genetically altered common cold virus from chimpanzees. You don’t need to be worried that you catch the virus from it, though, as it’s been modified in the lab it can’t replicate in the body or harm you. It does, however, carry all the genetic instructions needed to create the necessary protein spikes that can be found with coronavirus. The protein spikes in themselves aren’t harmful, though, they’re simply what the coronavirus uses to latch onto cells. So, if your body is confronted with the real coronavirus, your immune system can now recognise these protein spikes and basically has a tried and tested way to fight the infection. The vaccine is currently still used for adults in the UK, although people under 40 will receive an alternative where possible to minimise the extremely rare risk of blood clotting. You’ve probably heard of the blood clotting issue with the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, and you might ask yourself: “How can it be safe?”. And although the condition is serious with people suffering life changing effects and even death, it’s still extremely rare and the benefits of the vaccine far outweigh the risk of developing a blood clot. If you want to know more about the concerns and how they are being addressed, read here for more information. If you want to know more about the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in general, follow this link.
The Janssen is an adenovector vaccine and works similarly to the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine. To create this vaccine, scientists added the gene for coronavirus’ spike protein to a common adenovirus that causes flu-like symptoms or colds. No need to worry, though! The adenovirus has been modified so it can enter cells but not replicate in your body. This means that the vaccine doesn’t make you ill. Once you’ve received the vaccine, your immune system will react and in order to attack the spike protein so next time you come into contact with coronavirus, your immune system is ready to fight. You might experience some minor side effects like fever or pain at the injection site after getting your jab, but they will generally subside within a couple of days. The Janssen vaccine has been authorised for everyone aged 18 and over, however, for now there’s no concrete plan who will be receiving the shot when it becomes available later this year. One of the biggest benefits of the Janssen vaccine in terms of rollout is that it can be stored at temperatures between 2C and 8C for up to 3 months. And biggest benefit for you? You’ll only need a single dose, so you won’t have to schedule another appointment! If you want to know more about the Janssen vaccine, follow this link.
So, let’s look at why getting vaccinated against coronavirus is safe and important
Right after clean drinking water, vaccines are the next most important thing to keep humanity fit and healthy as they prevent infectious diseases from spreading. And it’s totally ok if you’re slightly concerned or nervous about getting the coronavirus vaccine, many people feel exactly the same way. What’s important is that you take all the anti-vaccine stories you read online with a pinch of salt as many of them are not based on scientific evidence.
If we look back, since vaccines have been introduced in the UK, disease like smallpox, polio, and tetanus that used to kill or disable millions of people have either been completely eradicated or are seen only very rarely. If, however, for any reason, people would suddenly stop getting these vaccines, these diseases would return and spread quickly again. If you want to know more about why vaccines are generally safe, read this resource here.
There has been a lot of concern around the safety of the coronavirus vaccines so the question that remains is: Are they safe? The short answer to this question is: Yes! All of the available COVID-19 jabs are completely safe and have gone through the same testing and approval process as any other vaccine. They were thoroughly tested by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) for their safety and effectiveness. Now that they are used in the wider population, they are constantly monitored which should add to the feeling of security that the jabs are safe and effective.
What if I’m pregnant or actively trying to have a baby?
Even if you’re pregnant, or you think you might be pregnant, you can have the COVID-19 vaccine. However, it’s preferred that you have either the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccine as they have been more widely used during pregnancy in other countries and haven’t caused any safety issues to mothers or babies. When you’re offered a vaccine and you’re pregnant, speak to your GP about arranging your appointment to make sure you’ll get vaccinated at a vaccination centre where they offer Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna. This should usually not be a problem at all! At the appointment, you’ll be able to voice any concerns or fears you might have so you can make an informed decision whether you want to go through with your jab or not. If you’re unsure, you can always speak to your GP or maternity team about any questions you have. If you’re breastfeeding, you can have any of the available vaccines without it affecting your milk or your baby. There’s also no evidence that the vaccines have any effect on your ability to get pregnant. So, even if you’re trying for a baby, it’s super important that you take the vaccine when you’re offered it. You can find more guidance on pregnancy and vaccines here and here.
If you’re worried about side effects…
… don’t be! The chances of any serious side effects are extremely minimal! The blood clotting issue might be on your mind right now but remember how extremely rare these cases are. You might experience some mild, very tolerable side effects, however. But let’s look at it in a bit more detail.
If you’ve had the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, headaches, and fatigue after the second dose are the most common side effects. And to put “most common” into perspective, only 4% of people reported fatigue and only 2% presented with a headache. For the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine the story is pretty similar, and the vast majority of side effects will subside really quickly. The most common side effects here are discomfort at the injection site or feeling generally unwell, tired, feverish, having a headache, feeling sick or having joint and muscle pain. The Moderna vaccine is no different in this regard and you might experience mild side effects for about 2 to 3 days most commonly after your second dose. The most common side effects with this jab are general fatigue, headaches, muscle and joint pain, chills, and pain at the injection site.
If you think back, you’ll actually have experienced some side effects with most of the vaccines you got during your lifetime. Just always keep in mind that you don’t have COVID-19 if you feel unwell after getting your coronavirus jab; it’s just your immune system responding. If you’re experiencing any side effects, you can report them here.
Now that we know all the background… how do you actually get your vaccine?
You will be notified by the NHS when it’s your turn to get the vaccine. You might receive a text message from ‘NHSvaccine’ inviting you to book your vaccination appointments. You should also receive a letter a few days after your text message. So, if you receive a text but you’re unsure whether it’s genuine, you can always wait for your letter to arrive. Be aware that any text messages coming from ‘NHSvaccine’ come from a different number than the invites you usually get from your local GP surgery or NHS hospital. Once you have received your official invitation, you will be able to book your vaccination appointments. If you want more information about how you will be contacted, follow this link.
Your vaccine appointment can either be at a hospital, your local GP surgery, a vaccination centre, or specified pharmacies. Make sure to bring your own face covering if you’re not exempt and your booking reference number if your vaccination is booked at a vaccination centre. Your appointment will usually last around 30 to 45 minutes and will start with some questions about your medical history. Make sure you let staff know about any severe allergic reactions you’ve had in the past and always inform them if you’re pregnant. Once this first step is done, you’ll be given your injection into your upper arm. After you had your jab, you might be asked to wait around for 15 minutes just in case you happen to have an allergic reaction. Don’t be alarmed by this, though! It’s been found that it’s super rare to have a severe allergic reaction to any of the vaccines and if it happens it usually happens within minutes. So, if you’re fine after 15 minutes, it’s very likely that you’ll be ok! If you do experience an allergic reaction, the team at vaccination centres are trained to deal with these situations are know exactly how to treat your allergic reaction promptly.
As we’ve already mentioned, you might experience some minor side effects after your vaccination. Please don’t let the fear of those prevent you from having your vaccine, though! They are generally fairly mild and short-lived, and you’ll be back to normal before you know it. Also, don’t let the side effects of your first dose put you off from getting your second jab. Because even though the first dose will protect you from coronavirus, most jabs will require you to get a second dose for long-term protection. The only jab with which you’ll have full protection after only one dose is the Janssen vaccine.
Most people are completely fine after having their vaccine and can go about their day as usual. So, as long as you feel well, feel free to resume any activities you had planned instantly after getting your jab. If you have a sore arm, you might find it a bit difficult to lift heavy things for a couple of days so make sure to give your muscles some rest. And if you feel particularly tired or unwell, give your body time to recover – an afternoon on the sofa with your favourite movie doesn’t sound too bad now, does it? If you want to know more about what you can expect after your vaccine, please read here.
To sum it all up, there’s absolutely no need for you to be afraid or scared of getting the COVID-19 vaccine. The last months have shown clearly that the benefits of having the jab far outweigh the extremely minor risks of getting it. And feeling a little under the weather for a few days is still much better than catching coronavirus. And if you read a negative story that worries you, remember the millions of people who’ve already been vaccinated and are completely fine. So, make sure you take the vaccine when your turn comes!
If you’re interested in some further reading, here are some great resources for you!
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