They’re quick, free and could save your life – plus those of your loved ones.
In our handy Q&A, some of the country’s top medical experts reveal everything you need to know about the Covid-19 vaccines…
How have they been developed so quickly?
Vaccines do normally take years to get developed and approved. In the case of the coronavirus vaccines, the same steps have been taken as for any other vaccine, including safe testing on humans in clinical trials. But this time the process has simply been done in the shortest time possible, without bypassing any of the usual stages.
Thousands of scientists have been focused on producing vaccines, with a whopping quarter of a million people volunteering to be part of studies too.
The manufacture of millions of doses has already been ramped up for a speedy roll out.
Professor Sir Terence Stephenson, of the Health Research Authority, says: “We have increased speed but we have not compromised on standards or safety. We’re just doing it more quickly, in a more efficient way.
“The UK public have been absolutely fantastic about stepping up to the plate to be involved.”
Can we be sure they’re safe?
Any vaccine goes through three rigorous phases of clinical trials . These involve testing it on tens of thousands of people from all walks of life and age groups to see how they react. The trials have strict safety standards to ensure the safety of volunteers and their health is monitored 24/7.
Vaccines are only made available when they have been approved for use by the medicines regulator, the MHRA. This is an independent body made up of experts who have been studying the data and assessing the coronavirus vaccines in the same way as they do for hundreds of others annually.
Dr June Raine, MHRA Chief Executive, says: “The public can be completely confident that Covid-19 vaccines will only be available once they have met robust standards of safety, quality and effectiveness.”
What exactly is the vaccine?
Vaccinations work by teaching your immune system how to defend itself against an attack by the virus. And the Covid-19 vaccines work in much the same way, mimicking the coronavirus in order to train your body to recognise the real thing and fight it off.
They will help your body to produce antibodies that boost your defences if you come into contact with Covid-19, putting you at much less risk of an extreme reaction to the virus or even hospitalisation.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, explains some of the science behind it: “Once you’ve got the antibodies, when you meet the real virus, your immune system can spring straight into action and stop you getting infected at all.”
Do I need it if my risk is low?
Any vaccine can help to protect individuals, but if enough people get it, the whole country could benefit! Dr Raine says: “It’s up to all of us to think about the vulnerable, the elderly, people who we treasure in our family and do our bit to make sure that we can get back to normal life and hugging grandma.”
Do they work?
There are lots of vaccines in development, but three – the Pfizer, Moderna and Oxford AstraZeneca – have shown that they can prevent people getting the disease and are up to 95 per cent effective.
Having several Covid-19 vaccines helps to increase the number of doses available.
Professor Van-Tam says: “We’re hopeful all the vaccines that are proven to be effective will not only reduce illness and disease, but will take out severe disease that puts people in hospital.”
The Government has accepted the recommendation from the MHRA to approve the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine for use. Once the NHS vaccination programme starts it will be carefully monitored to see what effect it is having on individuals and the pandemic.
Who gets the jab?
Everyone! Almost all of us will eventually be offered a jab. But some groups are at more risk than others.
Independent experts from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation have advised that older care home residents, followed by people over 80 and health and social care workers, should be prioritised, followed by other sectors of the population in order of age and risk.
The NHS has decades of experience delivering vaccinations and the Pfizer vaccine will be made available across the UK from next week. When it’s your turn, you will receive a notification.
Help beat the bug
Why not do your bit to help end the pandemic by signing up for the Vaccine Research Registry?
Some sectors of society, like ethnic minorities, seem to be affected by Covid-19 more than others, so it’s vital that people from all backgrounds and ages take part in trials to find out which vaccines work best for them.
Taking part in a trial is safe and signing up doesn’t commit you to taking part if you change your mind. Find out more at nhs.uk/researchcontact