The vaccines used to protect against coronavirus

The coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine does not cause a coronavirus infection. It helps to build up your immunity to the virus, so your body will fight it off more easily if it affects you.

This can reduce your risk of developing coronavirus and make your symptoms milder if you do get it.

Scotland currently offers the Pfizer/BioNTech, Oxford/AstraZeneca and Moderna coronavirus vaccines. All these vaccines were approved on the basis of large studies of safety and effectiveness. 

The effectiveness and immune response of the vaccine is being monitored as the vaccine is rolled out.

There is no evidence to suggest that coronavirus vaccines will affect fertility in women or men.

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

COVID-19 is a respiratory infection caused by a new coronavirus, known as SARS-CoV-2. It was first identified in late 2019.

It is highly infectious and spreads through the air when people cough or sneeze, or when they touch surfaces where it has landed then touch their eyes, nose or mouth.

Coronavirus can cause serious illness, hospitalisation and even death.

Common coronavirus symptoms

The most common symptoms are:

  • new continuous cough
  • fever/high temperature (37.8C or greater)
  • loss of, or change in, sense of smell or taste

Some people will have more serious symptoms, including pneumonia or difficulty breathing, which might require admission to hospital.

It is also possible to have coronavirus without having any symptoms.

More about coronavirus

How many doses will be offered?

All adults aged 16 years and over are eligible for 2 doses of vaccine (given 3 to 12 weeks apart), followed by an additional booster dose.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) recommends a gap of 8 to 12 weeks between first and second doses.

The booster dose can be given at least 3 months (12 weeks) after your second dose.

Coronavirus vaccination offers good protection from 3 to 4 weeks after the first dose.

People with a severely weakened immune system are also eligible for a third primary dose, given 8 weeks after their second dose. If they are aged 12 or over they are also then eligible for a booster dose, which can be given 3 months (12 weeks) after their third primary dose.

Having all the recommended doses of the vaccine is important for longer-term protection against coronavirus.

If you have a weakened immune system and have been given an earlier second or third primary dose appointment for clinical reasons, you should attend your appointment as planned.

The coronavirus vaccine you'll be offered

The vaccine you are offered will be appropriate for you and will be based on clinical recommendations, including those of the JCVI.

The vaccine you receive will also depend on your age, whether you are pregnant and vaccine availability. For a limited number of people, it will depend on clinical reasons such as severe allergy or having a severely weakened immune system.

The Pfizer/BioNTech and the Moderna vaccines are authorised for use in children and adults aged 12 years and over. The Pfizer/BioNTech (child-sized dose) vaccine is authorised for use in children aged 5 to 11 years.

The JCVI has advised that it is preferable for people under 40 to have a vaccine other than Oxford/AstraZeneca.

You may wish to go ahead with the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccination after you have considered all the risks and benefits for you.

If you have already had a first dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine without suffering any serious side effects you should complete the course (unless there is a medical reason for you not to have the same vaccine).

This includes people aged 18 to 39 years who are health and social care workers, unpaid carers and household contacts of those with a severely weakened immune system.

You should get an alternative coronavirus vaccine to the AstraZeneca vaccination if you have a history of other extremely rare antibody-mediated syndromes involving past major thrombosis (blood clots) combined with thrombocytopaenia. This includes a previous episode of heparin-induced thrombocytopaenia and thrombosis (HITT or HIT type 2). A history of thrombosis (blood clots) on its own does not mean you cannot have the AstraZeneca vaccine.

More information on the AstraZeneca vaccine and rare blood clots

Who should not get the vaccine

There are very few people who cannot get the coronavirus vaccine.

You should not get the coronavirus vaccine if you've had a confirmed severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to:

  • any of the ingredients in the vaccine
  • a previous dose of the vaccine

Vaccine ingredients

The vaccines do not contain any animal products, egg, gluten or wheat and are suitable for people with coeliac disease. For more information on vaccine ingredients visit the Vaccine Knowledge Project

The vaccine you receive may contain a small amount of an alcohol called ethanol. The amount in the vaccine is less than the amount in a slice of bread.

A full list of ingredients for each type of vaccine is available on GOV.UK.

Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine

Information about the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine is available on GOV.UK.

Information for UK recipients on Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine (adult/adolescent dose)

Information for UK recipients on Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine (child-sized dose)

Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine

Information about the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine is available on GOV.UK.

Information for UK recipients on Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine

Moderna COVID-19 vaccine

Information about the Moderna coronavirus vaccine is available on GOV.UK.

Information for UK recipients on the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine

Allergic reactions

If you have a history of serious allergic reaction to food, an identified drug or vaccine, or an insect sting, you can still get the coronavirus vaccine, as long as you're not allergic to any ingredient of the vaccine.

It's important that you tell the person giving you the vaccine if you've ever had a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis).

If you do have a reaction to the vaccine, it usually happens in minutes. The people giving the vaccine are trained to deal with allergic reactions and treat them immediately.

Vaccines and testing

Having a coronavirus vaccine will not affect the results of a PCR or lateral flow test.

PCR and lateral flow tests detect active disease based on a swab test (a long cotton bud is used to swab your nose and throat).

The coronavirus vaccines help your body build immunity to the virus and do not contain a live virus.