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.

The coronavirus vaccine is suitable for people with disorders of the immune system.

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

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 the vaccines are given

The coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine will be given in 2 doses. It offers good protection within 2 to 3 weeks of the first dose.

The latest evidence suggests the first dose of the vaccine provides protection for most people for up to 12 weeks. As a result of this evidence, when you can have the second dose has changed. This is also to make sure as many people can have the vaccine as possible.

What happens at your coronavirus vaccination (jab, injection) appointment

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 Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

The vaccine you receive will also depend on availability and, for a limited number of people, clinical reasons such as severe allergy.

Based on current advice from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the JCVI, you should receive the same vaccine for your first and second dose.

Can I catch coronavirus from the vaccine?

You cannot catch coronavirus from the vaccine but it is possible to have caught it and not realise you have the symptoms until after your vaccination appointment.

What to do if you develop coronavirus symptoms

Vaccine safety

All medicines, including vaccines, are tested for safety and effectiveness before they’re allowed to be used. Their safety continues to be checked while in use.

NHS Scotland will only use a vaccine if it meets the required standards of safety and effectiveness.

The Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has approved coronavirus vaccines for use in the UK.

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 anaphylactic reaction to:

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

The vaccines are not routinely recommended during pregnancy but may be considered in some circumstances.

When the vaccine may be given in pregnancy

Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine

Information about the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, including a full list of ingredients, is available on GOV.UK.

Information for UK recipients on Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine

AstraZeneca vaccine

Information about the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, including a full list of ingredients, is available on GOV.UK.

Information for UK recipients on AstraZeneca 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.

The coronavirus vaccines do not contain products of animal origin

If you're taking medication

You’ll be asked some questions at your vaccination appointment to make sure that there are no reasons for you not to have the vaccine.

You'll also have an opportunity to ask any questions or discuss concerns you may have.

People with bleeding disorders or taking medication to thin their blood or reduce bleeding

People taking medication to thin the blood, such as warfarin, can safely receive the coronavirus vaccine as long as their treatment is stable.

You should let the person giving you the vaccine know what medication you are on.

Stable means you will have been taking the same dose for a while and if you are on warfarin, your:

  • INR checks are up to date
  • your latest INR level was in the right range

People with bleeding disorders should consult their specialist or their individual care plan for advice on vaccination.

Cancer treatment and the vaccine

It is recommended that all patients with cancer, including all those receiving systemic anti-cancer therapy (which includes cytotoxics, immunotherapy and targeted therapies), radiotherapy or steroids, should consider getting the coronavirus vaccine.

The Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) consider both the Pfizer BioNTech and the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccines to be safe for patients with suppressed immune systems.

Immunosuppression may however reduce the effectiveness of vaccines.

Patients should not assume they are immune after receiving the vaccine, and strictly adhere to measures to reduce exposure to the virus.

This same advice is given to everyone receiving the vaccine.

If you’re about to receive planned immunosuppressive therapy, your doctor may advise you to get the vaccine before starting therapy (ideally at least two weeks before), when your immune system is better able to respond.

Where possible, it is preferable for the 2 doses to be given before starting immunosuppression treatment. For this group only, it is recommended that the second dose is given either 3 or 4 weeks after the first dose, depending on the vaccine given to provide maximum benefit.