In a time full of cautious hope often dashed by swift U-turns, one thing that might have given you joy in this strange time is the UK's vaccine rollout. Right now, more than 68% of UK adults are fully vaccinated, with two doses of any of the approved jabs, delivered.
Of course, this comes alongside grim statistics showing rising numbers of those infected and hospitalised, with bleak projects for what the coming months could look like. The peak of this wave is not expected before mid-August and, say scientists advising the government, could lead to between 1,000-2,000 hospital admissions per day. Other experts have warned that the move will likely lead to high numbers of people suffering from long covid.
Below, WH answers some of your covid vaccine FAQs – including the latest on inoculation in children.
Are children going to get the Covid vaccine?
Right now, it looks like select groups of over 12s but under 18s will be offered a jab.
Speaking to BBC One’s Breakfast programme today, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said that he would make a statement later regarding advice on the matter from the government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.
'The JCVI looked at vulnerable children, they will recommend that vulnerable children should be protected,' Zahawi said. 'Children living with vulnerable adults should also be protected, and of course 17-year-olds who are close to their 18th birthday should also be protected.'
But a decsion on healthy children seems to be pending. 'They’re keeping under review healthy children. There’s lots of good data from America on first doses for healthy children, but there’s obviously a gap for those same children getting second doses.'
Speaking to the Andrew Marr Show, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said the government was 'very sympathetic" to the idea of inviting children aged 12 to 17 to have a jab.'
'It seems like a sensible thing to do. The evidence we have received so far is compelling and ministers are going to make a decision armed with the advice in the coming days.
What is the Covid vaccine calculator?
There's now a nifty online vaccine calculator that can give you an estimate of where you are in the queue for a COVID vaccine.
Omni Calculator's Vaccine Queue Calculator works for those living in the UK, and predicts when you're likely to be offered your vaccine doses. It asks you to input a series of information - including your age, whether you're a care home or health worker and if you're currently pregnant. It will then give an idea of when your turn will be, based on the current speed of vaccination and uptake rate.
Covid Vaccine Calculator UK: Try it for yourself here.
WH answers some of your other Covid vaccine FAQs, below.
Is the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine safe?
It is. While data had already affirmed the safety of this medicine, further evidence is now behind the jab, with the USA, Chile and Peru releasing interim trial data which 'show [that the] Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is safe and highly-effective.'
The key findings were:
Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine 79% effective against symptomatic COVID-19 overall
Vaccine 100% effective against severe or critical symptomatic COVID-19
No safety concerns reported
A University of Oxford press release states: 'A Phase III study of the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine conducted by AstraZeneca plc in the USA, Chile and Peru has shown that vaccine is safe and highly effective, adding to previous trial data from the United Kingdom, Brazil and South Africa, as well as real-world impact data from the United Kingdom.'
'The independent Data and Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) reported no safety concerns among the participants receiving at least one dose of the vaccine.'
This is all extra helpful, given how much this vaccine has been in the news recently. This has been due to some European countries, including France, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands, pausing their use of the jab over potential fears that it could cause blood clots in some people. Many have taken their programmes back up after the European Medicines Agency declared it safe for use on Friday last week.
What do the experts say?
Of the new data, Prof Stephen Evans, Professor of Pharmacoepidemiology, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: 'These results are not surprising given what we know now. The US regulatory authorities are reluctant, even in a pandemic, to rely totally on data obtained outside the US, so this trial was done to provide convincing evidence of efficacy and safety in a sufficiently large number of US patients.
'The benefits of these results will mainly be for the rest of the world where confidence in the AZ vaccine has been eroded, largely by political and media comment. Once that happens, reporting of adverse effects becomes very biased and confidence can spiral downwards. The rest of the world that will rely on this low-cost vaccine may be able to proceed with vaccinating their populations.'
Is the Covid-19 vaccine free in the UK?
Both approved COVID-19 vaccines are only available via the NHS in the UK, and so are totally free.
Can the Covid-19 vaccine give you the infection?
Certainly not. Public Health England says: 'The vaccine cannot give you COVID-19 infection, and 2 doses will reduce your chance of becoming seriously ill. We do not yet know whether it will stop you from catching and passing on the virus. So, it is important to follow the guidance in your local area to protect those around you.'
You could experience some mild side effects after having a jab. These should not last more than a week. According to the NHS, these might be:
a sore arm where the needle went in
feeling or being sick
The NHS says if you are impacted: 'You can take painkillers, such as paracetamol, if you need to. If you have a high temperature you may have coronavirus or another infection. If your symptoms get worse or you are worried, call 111.'
The health service also says that allergic reactions are very unusual. 'So far, millions of people have been given a COVID-19 vaccine and reports of serious side effects, such as allergic reactions, have been very rare. No long-term complications have been reported.'
How many injections do you need for the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine?
Two doses will be given if you have either the Pfizer or Oxford vaccine. Particularly when it comes to the now dominant Delta variant, the full two doses are necessary for sufficient protection.
Are all the Covid vaccines safe?
They are. But it's true that a lot of fears around them are circulating, especially in certain demographics. One study of 55,000 people in Britain carried out by Find Out Now in December 2020 found that 18- to 34-year-old women are the group most likely to say they would refuse the vaccine, many of whom said that fertility fears were a key reason for this.
The latest data from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Public Health England, meanwhile, suggests that people from Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic backgrounds – who have suffered disproportionately at the hands of this virus and its social impact – are almost three times more likely to reject a COVID-19 vaccine than people from a white background. There are many reasons for this, which WH explores, here.
But, while a lot of misinformation has been circulating – a report by the Centre for Countering Digital Hate found that social media pages run by anti-vaxxers have increased their following by at least 7.8 million people since 2019 – know that these medicines are safe.
What do the experts say?
Dr Craig Hartford, Committee Member of the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine’s Policy and Communications Group, said:
'Vaccines approved by the MHRA are safe and effective for use. Establishing the safety of a vaccine starts way back in the early research programs in which the vaccine is tested in vitro and in vivo to determine its safety profile before even beginning to test the vaccine in human volunteer clinical studies.
'This “pre-clinical” testing provides extensive information about the predicted safety of the vaccine in humans, and is conducted by scientists with advanced subject matter expertise in assessing and minimizing the potential toxic effects of a vaccine.'
By the time small, early trials have begun in humans and shown that it is safe, 'phase 2' and 'phase 3' trials can begin.
'Here a broader spectrum of subjects participate in the studies. In these studies the vaccine safety is monitored not only by the manufacturer and by the clinical investigators but also by an independent data safety monitoring board, oversight by an independent ethics committee and indeed by regulators themselves.
'Vaccine manufacturers have dedicated safety professionals, i.e. people whose only role is to monitor the safety of the vaccines, assigned to the vaccine development team and they are specifically continuously monitoring the safety of the product during development. They also have safety teams who make decisions about the safety of the vaccine’s safety internally.'
If a vaccine is shown to be safe here, then clinical data must be submitted for approval to a regulator. Safety monitoring is always on-going.
Dr Hartford adds: 'In summary, all medicines and vaccines can have some side effects, but these side effects are unusual, they are typically mild, transient and not serious, and serious side effects are rare. The benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks and the safety of vaccines is very closely monitored and assessed. The COVID-19 Vaccine when approved for use in the UK by the MHRA is safe and effective for use in the public.'
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The information in this story is accurate as of the publication date. While we are attempting to keep our content as up-to-date as possible, the situation surrounding the coronavirus pandemic continues to develop rapidly, so it's possible that some information and recommendations may have changed since publishing. For any concerns and latest advice, visit the World Health Organisation. If you're in the UK, the National Health Service can also provide useful information and support, while US users can contact the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
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