What you need to know

The COVID-19 vaccine is our best defence against the virus used alongside effective social distancing, wearing a mask and washing your hands.

Getting vaccinated means protecting yourself and may also help to protect your family, friends and patients from the virus.

The vaccine has been developed and approved following a number of clinical trials involving thousands of people across the world. It has also undergone mandatory safety tests to ensure it is safe for humans.

It is given in two doses by your local NHS service. Appointments will be held up to 12 weeks apart, based on updated guidance from the UK’s Chief Medical Officers. 

Vaccine safety and effectiveness

Yes. As with any medicine, vaccines are highly-regulated products. There are checks at every stage in the development and manufacturing process, and continued monitoring once it has been authorised and is being used in the wider population.   

The NHS does not offer any COVID-19 vaccinations to the public unless it is approved as safe and effective by the UK regulator.  The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the official UK regulator authorising licensed use of medicines and vaccines by healthcare professionals, make this decision for each potential vaccine, and we have full confidence in their expert judgement and processes.

The vaccine is very well tolerated with reported side effects similar to the flu jab – soreness or redness at the injection site and some have reported a headache. Further detail on side effects can be found in the leaflets below.

These are important details which the MHRA will consider when assessing candidate vaccines for use. NHSE plans currently include provision for monitoring patients immediately after their dose is administered, and all patients will be provided with information on the vaccine they have received, how to look out for any side effects, and what to do if they do occur, including reporting them to the MHRA.

COVID-19 remains a new infection and close observation by experts continues. At this stage it is unclear whether the vaccine will need to given yearly, like the flu vaccine, or less frequently.
Trials for length of vaccine protection continue and will also inform how vaccination for COVID-19 is recommended in the future.

The vaccine is given by injection into the arm or shoulder.
You will need two doses of the vaccine to gain the maximum protection. These doses will be given three to twelve weeks apart. One dose of the vaccine offers important protection, at least in the short term. Updated guidance from the JCVI has recommended that as many people on the JCVI priority list should be offered a first vaccine dose as the initial priority.   You will need to attend two appointments to receive both doses. If you do not have both doses the vaccine will not be fully effective.

No. The vaccines are designed to produce an immune response to just a small part of the virus, the spike protein. This is the part of the virus that allows it to enter into human cells and cause infection. No whole COVID-19 virus or live virus is used in the vaccines. This means the vaccine cannot give you COVID-19 and does not make you infectious after you have had the vaccine. This means it is also safe for people with a suppressed immune system.

     One dose of the vaccine offers important protection, at least in the short term. Updated guidance from the JCVI has recommended that as many people on the JCVI priority list should be offered a first vaccine dose as the initial priority. It is vital that you continue to adhere to social distancing, mask guidelines and practice good hand hygiene. No vaccine is 100% effective so it is also important you to continue to follow any government or workplace advice even after you have completed the vaccination course. 

Yes. The MHRA has advised that pregnant women can have the vaccine, however recommend they discuss this with their clinical team first. Those who are breast feeding may have the vaccine also.

No. You should have your flu jab either a minimum of 7 days before the first COVID-19 vaccination dose or 7 days after you have had the second dose.

No. You are not required to have a test prior to your vaccination, however if you have any symptoms of COVID-19 infection you must follow government guidelines and must not attend the appointment. You should follow advice you have been given to re-book your appointment.

You should not have the vaccine if you have had confirmed COVID-19 infection in the previous 28 days unless you are advised by your doctor that it is suitable for you to do so.

There are no animal products listed in the ingredients.

Information on the vaccine ingredients have been provided by the MHRA. The MHRA have confirmed that both approved COVID-19 vaccines do not contain any animal products. A full list of ingredients for the qualitative and quantitative composition of the vaccine and a full list of the excipient composition of the vaccine can be found at point 6 in the Information for Recipients of COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca.

Yes, if they are in a priority group identified by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). We don’t yet know how long immunity lasts after having been infected with COVID-19, so getting vaccinated is just as important for those who have already had it as it is for those who haven’t.

Yes; it is unclear how long antibodies produced following infection may provide protection and whether the protection is as effective as that provided by vaccination. It is therefore recommended you have a vaccine if offered one.

No. Vaccine gives will be based on availability, except for when a patient’s medical history means a specific vaccine must be used. Any vaccines that are available will have been approved by the medicine regulatory authorities so you should be assured that whatever vaccine you are offered, it is safe and effective.

We will need to see the final clinical evidence from trials on this. The important point for any vaccine is whether MHRA approve it for use – if it does then that means it’s a worthwhile vaccine to have and people should have it if they are eligible. The Government has in principle secured access to six different vaccine candidates, including the now approved BioNTech/Pfizer and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines. The results seen for all the vaccine candidates so far have been very encouraging and if borne out by final assessments would each be classed as being very effective.      

No. While the vaccination prevents the development of the infection in around 90-95% of people, there is still a chance of contracting the virus or transmission to others. It is therefore very important to continue wearing a mask, social distancing and practicing good hand hygiene.

Since the vaccination programme began in early December, the MHRA has been notified of two reports of anaphylaxis, and a further possible allergic reaction, shortly after receiving the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. The individuals received prompt treatment and recovered.

Incidents such as these are common with new vaccines and the MHRA has tried and tested processes to deal with them. The public can be reassured that we continue to adhere to the highest standards of safety as we provide this life-saving vaccine to those who need it most. Individuals should not get the vaccine if they have had a severe allergic reaction to any of the vaccine ingredients.  

Vaccine eligibility

The Government has secured access to six different vaccine candidates, across four different vaccine types, totalling over 350 million doses. This includes:

  • BioNTech/Pfizer BioNTech alliance – phase 3 clinical trials (40m doses)
  • University of Oxford/AstraZeneca partnership – phase 3 clinical trials (100m doses)
  • Moderna (7m doses)

       Now the Pfizer BionTech and Oxford Astrazeneca have both been approved, enough doses will be available for everyone who wants one. However, we won’t have all of these doses immediately. The speed of vaccination will be subject to supply – but the UK expects to have received tens of millions of doses of vaccine by Easter. This is going to be a long-term programme. 

Over the coming weeks and as more supplies are available, vaccination appointments will continue to be rolled out to other patient-facing health and care staff as per the JCVI’s guidance.

Not at this stage unless they fall into one of the priority groups. The priority groups are reviewed by the Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisations (JCVI) and, if it is deemed necessary, other groups may also be invited for a vaccination. 

The NHS is currently in the process of offering the vaccine to people aged 80 and over, those who live or work in care home, and frontline health and social care staff. When everyone in these groups has had the chance to get their first dose of the vaccine the programme will expand to other people that are at risk either due to their age group or medical condition in line with the advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations.

Read the latest JCVI advice on priority groups for the COVID-19 vaccination on the GOV.UK website

This may happen in a small number of cases. If people have had their first vaccination through a hospital or GP service, or are a care home residents, this will be noted through the national system. In some cases, the letter may have been printed to be sent before the national system is updated. This is explained in the booking letter. If you have already had your first dose, please do not book through the details included on the letter.  

People classed as clinically extremely vulnerable should have already been contacted should have already received a letter from the NHS. If you have not been contacted and think you should have been, please speak to your GP or hospital care team. People defined as clinically extremely vulnerable are listed on the NHS website. 

As one of the top four priority groups, clinically extremely vulnerable people should be contacted for their first vaccine appointment in the coming weeks, with all clinically vulnerable people expected to have been offered a vaccine by February 15. 

If you provide unpaid care or live with someone eligible to receive a vaccine, at this time we are not able to also offer you a vaccine. All eligible people will be contacted. If you have not been contacted, please be patient as the vaccine rollout continues. We recognise the vital role unpaid carers play in caring for vulnerable individuals and we will provide further details on their access to the vaccine in due course. 

Care home staff are in the highest priority group, and are currently being vaccinated alongside care home residents.

Vaccinating healthcare staff

All front line staff will be offered the vaccine. Local prioritisation has been agreed by all the NHS Trusts in Birmingham and Solihull to ensure those most at risk and caring for the most at risk patients are offered first. If you are a health or social care worker and cannot receive the vaccine at your place of work, alternative options will be offered.

There are no plans for a COVID-19 vaccine to be compulsory. Just as with the winter flu vaccine, local NHS employers will be working hard to ensure 100% of staff are able to get vaccinated, and that any concerns that staff have are answered. We are confident that the vast majority of our staff – as they do every year for the flu vaccine – will choose to protect themselves and their patients by getting the vaccine.

This will be a mixed picture over the coming weeks depending on a range of factors. This group are a high priority and every effort is being made to vaccinate them quickly and safely. This may be in the Hospital Hubs at their work place for staff, or in their place of residence for residents.

Patient vaccinations

When it is the right time people will receive an invitation to come forward. For most people this will be in the form of a letter either from their GP or the national booking system; this will include all the information they need to book their appointments, including their NHS number.

We know lots of people will be eager to get protected but we are asking people not to contact the NHS to get an appointment until they get their letter.

The JCVI set criteria on an ongoing basis for who should get the vaccine when. GPs will be able to call in or go out to patients based on this, using their patient records. A national invite and recall system, drawn from GP patient records, may also be used.

If you have had your first jab already through a hospital or GP services, the local NHS will contact you about getting your second.

If you have received a letter from the national booking service and you have already had your first dose of the vaccination, please ignore the letter. This service will require you to book appointments for both doses of the vaccination at the same time.

If you already have a vaccination booked through your GP, please ignore the letter. There is nothing more you need to do.

 If you have received a letter from the national booking centre inviting you to book your Covid-19 vaccination you can do this online or on the phone using the details on the first page of the letter.     You will need your name, date of birth and NHS number to book.  Your letter will state your NHS number in the top right corner.   At the time of booking you will be asked to book your first vaccination and your follow up vaccination, which will be around 12 weeks later. 

Letters sent by the national booking team are different to letters your GP may also send. If you are trying to book into a mass vaccination centre, please do not contact your GP surgery, as they will be unable to book you into the mass centre. Please use the details in the letter to book your appointment directly, either online or by phone. 

The NHS is inviting eligible people as supplies of the vaccine allow. If you have received a letter and live with someone who is also eligible but has not been contacted, it is likely that they will be contacted shortly after. You can wait and book at the same time if you would like to. 

People who are housebound will be contacted by their local NHS community vaccination team, based upon lists provided by their local GPs, with details of how they can be vaccinated. This will include home visits. 

If your appointment is at a mass vaccination site, please call 119 if you need to reschedule or change your appointment. 

For appointments at GP practices please use the contact details provided on your appointment notification. 

Roll-out plan in Birmingham and Solihull

This will depend on the number of doses we get, but the NHS aims to vaccinate as many people as safely and quickly as possible.

The NHS has begun vaccinating the priority cohorts. When we get more vaccine supplies this will potentially allow us to go further and faster, but we are not there yet.  

The NHS has been working together with local partners to ensure that people are not disadvantaged because of where they live, whether they own a car or if they are not able to get about. This is why the NHS has developed three different models of delivery.

NHS Trusts will provide Hospital Hubs where vaccines can be safely stored and those in the highest priority groups can be vaccinated.

Vaccination Centres will be opening in the near future which will provide vaccination on a large scale. These sites will be in well-connected public venues.

GPs and Pharmacies will also provide vaccination services locally in the community.

All vaccine sites in Birmingham and Solihull are receiving regular deliveries of COVID vaccines. Eligible patients are being contacted to book an appointment. Supply is expected to increase over the coming weeks.



If you have your vaccination at a GP surgery, it will be given by the doctor or the practice nurse.

At Vaccination Centres, the vaccine will either be given by specially trained staff – either existing staff or those recruited specifically for the programme. There are a number of roles within the vaccination programme and these will require different levels of qualifications and experience.

Public Health England have compiled comprehensive training including injection administration, training on vaccines in general and the specific ones that will be used, and all the mandatory training NHS have to do. Locally, vaccinators will have inductions and orientation and importantly new vaccinators will be supervised and assessed by senior clinicians to ensure both their safety and of course the safety of the people they are vaccinating – just like any other vaccinator.

Our planning will ensure that there is as little as possible impact on other vital services by drawing on a pool of experienced NHS professionals through the NHS Bring Back Scheme, recruiting new vaccinators from amongst a wider group of healthcare professionals and others who complete training, and using independent Occupational Health providers.

Additional sources of information

JVCI Prioritisation


National booking system


Dr Van-Tam Briefing on COVID-19 Vaccine


Public Health England – Green Book (published 27/11/20)


This chapter includes information on:

  • the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines.
  • the dosage and schedule for the UK.
  • recommendations for the use of the vaccine.

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