Wellbeing & Fitness

Covid-19 vaccines: how they work and who is eligible if you have a disability or chronic illness

Four Covid-19 vaccines – Pfizer/BioNTech, Oxford/AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson – have been approved in the UK. Read on to learn more about the vaccines and understand who is eligible and when.

We’re updating this article regularly with new information, so you can keep up to date.

UPDATED: 19/07/2021

Which Covid-19 vaccines have been approved?

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was approved in November 2020 in the UK and begun being administered on 8th December 2020. Millions of people have already received their first dose.

On 30th December 2020, the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for use in the UK. It was rolled out alongside the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine from Monday 4th January 2021.

The Moderna vaccine was approved by the MHRA for use in the UK on 8th January 2021, with 17 million doses pre-ordered. The first doses were administered to patients in Wales and Scotland on 7th April 2021 and England administered the first doses on 13th April 2021. Northern Ireland is due to follow suit soon.

The Johnson and Johnson vaccine, made by the pharmaceutical company Janssen, was approved for use in the UK by the MHRA on Friday 28th May 2021. It is expected to be available to patients later this year.

Here at Disability Horizons, we take you through everything you need to know about the Covid-19 vaccines:

Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine

The Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine was the first jab to be approved in the UK by the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Authority (MHRA).

People begun receiving the injection at NHS hospitals across the country from 8th December.

Pfizer and BioNTech are not British companies. Pfizer is a pharmaceutical company based in America and BioNTech is a biotechnology company based in Germany. The drug is being made at a Pfizer manufacturing facility in Belgium.

The UK ordered a total of 30 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which will protect 15 million people as two doses are needed.

How the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine works

The Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine trains the immune system to fight coronavirus.

It is a new type of jab called a Ribonucleic acid (RNA) vaccine that uses a tiny fragment of the virus’s genetic code. This starts making part of the virus inside the body, which the immune system recognises as foreign and starts to attack.

The genetic material is encased in a tiny protective bubble of fat to get it into cells.

The jab has to be stored at -70C. It can then be in a refrigerator for up to five days before it starts to degrade.

Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine

The Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, which was developed at Oxford University alongside pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, was approved by the MHRA on Wednesday 30th December 2020.

The UK government ordered a lot more of this vaccine – 100 million doses.

How the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine works

The Oxford vaccine is based on a harmless adenovirus from a chimpanzee, which has been engineered in the lab to include genes from Sars-Cov-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

When the genetically modified adenovirus is injected into human cells, they make coronavirus proteins that prime the immune system to respond to future infections with Sars-Cov-2.

This jab is more affordable and can be stored in a refrigerator between 2C and 8. Two jabs are also needed for this vaccine.

Moderna Covid-19 vaccine

The third Covid-19 vaccine to be approved in the UK is the Moderna vaccine. It was authorised by the MHRA on Friday 8th January 2021.

The UK Government has ordered 17 million doses but is eager to increase this number so more people can be vaccinated.

How the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine works

Like the Pfizer jab, the Moderna vaccine uses synthetic RNA messengers that use genetic code from the coronavirus to prompt human cells to generate a so-called “spike” protein found on the outside of the virus.

The process sets off an immune response from the body, which eventually blocks the actual coronavirus from latching onto cells.

Fortunately, the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine remains stable for six months at -20C and for 30 days in a standard medical refrigerator.

Johnson and Johnson Covid-19 vaccine

The Johnson and Johnson is a single-dose vaccine made by the pharmaceutical company Janssen. It is the fourth jab to be authorised by the MHRA for use in the UK on Friday 28th May 2021.

The UK Government initially ordered 30 million doses but following the success of the vaccination rollout across the country, it has decided to cut the order to 20 million doses.

How the Johnson and Johnson Covid-19 vaccine works

The Johnson and Johnson vaccine is a monovalent vaccine composed of a recombinant, replication-incompetent human adenovirus type 26 vector that encodes a SARS-CoV-2 full-length spike (S) glycoprotein in a stabilised conformation.

Once the jab is given, the S glycoprotein of SARS-CoV-2 is transiently expressed, stimulating both neutralising and other functional S-specific antibodies, as well as cellular immune responses directed against the S antigen, which may contribute to protection against Covid-19.

The Johnson and Johnson vaccine can be stored at refrigerated temperatures of 2C to 8C for a single period of up to three months.

Have you been fully vaccinated? Buy our vaccine card to show you are protected.

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Covid-19 vaccine ingredients

Here is a full list of the ingredients that make up the Pfizer/BioNTech, Oxford/AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines:

Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine ingredients

This vaccine contains polyethylene glycol/macrogol (PEG) as part of ALC-0159.

  • ALC-0315 = (4-hydroxybutyl) azanediyl)bis (hexane-6,1-diyl)bis(2-hexyldecanoate)
  • ALC-0159 = 2-[(polyethylene glycol)-2000]-N,N-ditetradecylacetamide
  • 1,2-Distearoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine
  • cholesterol
  • potassium chloride
  • potassium dihydrogen phosphate
  • sodium chloride
  • disodium hydrogen phosphate dihydrate
  • sucrose
  • water for injections.

Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine ingredients

One dose (0.5 ml) contains: COVID 19 Vaccine (ChAdOx1-S* recombinant) 5 × 10^10 viral particles

*Recombinant, replication-deficient chimpanzee adenovirus vector encoding the SARS CoV 2 Spike glycoprotein. Produced in genetically modified human embryonic kidney (HEK) 293 cells.

This product contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The other ingredients are:

  • L-histidine
  • L-histidine hydrochloride monohydrate
  • magnesium chloride hexahydrate
  • polysorbate 80
  • ethanol (alcohol)
  • sucrose
  • sodium chloride
  • disodium edetate dihydrate
  • water for injections.

Moderna Covid-19 vaccine ingredients

This vaccine contains polyethene glycol/macrogol (PEG) as part of PEG2000-DMG.

This is a multidose vial that contains 10 doses of 0.5 mL.

The active substance in each dose is 0.10 mg mRNA encoding the pre-fusion stabilized Spike glycoprotein of SARS-CoV-2 embedded in lipid nanoparticles.

The other ingredients are:

  • lipid SM-102, cholesterol
  • 1,2-distearoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine (DSPC)
  • 1,2-Dimyristoyl-rac-glycero-3-methoxypolyethylene glycol-2000 (PEG2000-DMG)
  • trometamol (tris)
  • trometamol hydrochloride (tris HCl)
  • acetic acid
  • sodium acetate trihydrate
  • sucrose
  • water for injections.

Johnson and Johnson Covid-19 vaccine ingredients

The active substance is Adenovirus type 26 encoding the SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein**(Ad26.COV2-S) not less than 8.92 log10 infectious units (Inf.U) in each 0.5 mL dose.

Produced in the PER.C6 TetR Cell Line and by recombinant DNA technology.

This product contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The other ingredients are:

  • 2-hydroxypropyl-β-cyclodextrin (HBCD)
  • citric acid monohydrate
  • ethanol
  • hydrochloric acid
  • polysorbate 80
  • sodium chloride
  • sodium hydroxide
  • trisodium citrate dihydrate
  • water for injections.

Head to the Disability Horizons Shop to buy Covid essentials, including lip-reading face masks, face mask inserts to make breathing easier and extra-thick plastic aprons.

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Covid-19 vaccines effectiveness and doses

Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is given in two doses and offers up to 95% protection against Covid-19 after the two doses have been given. You will not be fully protected from coronavirus until at least 7 days after the second dose.

Data by Public Health England also showed the Pfizer vaccine cuts Covid transmission by up to 85% after the first dose.

Initially, the two doses of the Pfizer vaccine were to be given three weeks apart. However, at the end of December 2020, the Department for Health and Social Care announced that it will prioritise administering the first dose to as many people as possible and delay the second dose to between eight and 12 weeks. This is more in line with how the Oxford vaccine is given.

This also followed a new strain of coronavirus being found in the UK, which was discovered in London in mid-December and has gone on to spread to many European, Asian and North American countries (read more about the new variants of Covid-19 below).

On 23rd February 2021, Public Health England published data analysing the effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine since the vaccination programme began.

  • The study shows that healthcare workers are 72% less likely to develop infection (with or without symptoms) after one dose of the vaccine, rising to 86% after the second dose.
  • Protection from any Covid-19 symptoms in over-80s is 57% from four weeks after vaccination. After the second dose, effectiveness rises to more than 85%.
  • Hospitalisation rates are also falling in all age groups, but people aged 75 and over are seeing the fastest decline.
  • Those over 80 who develop the Covid-19 infection after vaccination are around 40% less likely to be hospitalised than someone with infection who has not been vaccinated.
  • Death rates are also declining in all age groups, but slightly faster in the oldest age groups who have already been offered vaccination.
  • Over 80s who are vaccinated and develop Covid-19 infection, have a 56% lower chance of death than someone with infection who hasn’t been vaccinated.

Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine

The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is said to be 90% effective when given a half dose then a full dose.

The second dose will be given eight to 12 weeks after the first, and, like with the Pfizer vaccine, you won’t be 90% protected until the second jab.

As well as being 90% effective against contracting Covid-19, scientists revealed on 3rd February 2021 that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine can also cut transmission of the virus by almost 70% too.

On 23rd February 2021, data from Public Health Scotland show the Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines reduced the risk of hospitalisation from Covid-19 up to 85% and 94%, respectively.

Moderna vaccine

Moderna’s vaccine is 94% effective and will require two injections, which need to be administered at least 28 days apart. This time scale may be extended due to the government’s aim to administer as many first doses as possible.

Johnson and Johnson vaccine

This single-dose vaccine is said to be overall 66.3% effective against mild to moderate coronavirus and 76.3% effective against serious to critical Covid-19 after 14 days.

In addition, the vaccine is 93% effective against hospitalisations after 14 days, increasing to 100% after 28 days.

How long will a Covid-19 vaccine protect me?

Because the vaccines haven’t been available for long, at this stage, there is no evidence to show how long the Pfizer, Oxford or Moderna vaccines can protect you, so more research is needed.

This means the Covid-19 vaccine may need to be administered on an annual basis, similar to the flu jab.

Covid-19 vaccine booster jabs

The vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi has announced that over-70s, health and social care workers, and those who are ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ could begin to get booster shots against new coronavirus variants as early as September 2021.

Back in February, the Oxford-AstraZeneca team already mentioned they’d be able to tweak the vaccine to protect people from new variants by the autumn.

Following the approval of the Johnson and Johnson jab, it is believed this single-dose vaccine could also be used as a booster shot for the elderly and clinically extremely vulnerable this autumn.

Mixing Covid-19 vaccines to be trialled

On Thursday 4th February 2021, it was announced that a new trial would be starting to see if it’s safe and effective to have dosses from two different vaccines so that the vaccination programme can be sped up if supplies are low of one particular jab.

For instance, if you have the Pfizer vaccine as your first dose then the Oxford vaccine as your second dose, will it give you enough protection or even more protection than two of the same vaccine?

800 people over 50 will be taking part in this study and early results will be published in summer 2021.

On Wednesday 14th April it was announced the trial will be extended to include two more vaccines – Moderna and Novavax. People over 50 who have already had a first dose of either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca jab can apply for the Com-Cov trial.

Will the Covid-19 vaccines have side effects?

So far the majority of people have experienced no severe side effects or reactions from any of the Covid-19 vaccines, but there are some mild, short-term side effects, which can occur in most vaccines – we’ve listed these side effects below.

In March 2021, there have been reports of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine may be causing rare blood clots in a very small minority of patients – more on this below.

Pfizer/BioNTech side effects

Very common (may affect more than 1 in 10 people)

  • pain at the injection site
  • tiredness
  • headache
  • muscle pain
  • chills
  • joint pain
  • fever

Common (may affect up to 1 in 10 people)

  • injection site swelling
  • redness at the injection site
  • nausea (feeling sick)

Oxford/AstraZeneca side effects

Very common (may affect more than 1 in 10 people)

  • tenderness, pain, warmth, redness, itching, swelling or bruising where the injection is given
  • generally feeling unwell
  • feeling tired (fatigue)
  • chills or feverish
  • headache
  • feeling sick (nausea)
  • joint pain or muscle ache

Common (may affect up to 1 in 10 people)

  • a lump at the injection site
  • fever
  • being sick (vomiting)
  • flu-like symptoms, such as high temperature, sore throat, runny nose, cough and chills.

Syringe containing a vaccine being held by a doctor wearing a white coat

Rare blood clots (may affect 1 in 600,000 people)

On 31st March 2021, the MHRA confirmed that 79 people in the UK had experienced rare blood clots after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine. Two-thirds of them were younger females and 19 of the 79 had died.

As a precautionary measure, it has been advised that people aged 18 to 29 should be offered either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine instead.

People who have already been given a first dose of AstraZeneca and did not experience a blood clot, should still receive their second dose. It is believed the blood clots only occur after the first dose.

20 million people have now been given the AstraZeneca vaccine, and blood clots are said to happen to 1 in 600,000 people who get the jab. The medical advisors have reassured the public that the benefits of having the AstraZeneca vaccine far out weight the risk of blood clots.

If you are more at risk of developing blood clots or are on anticoagulants, speak to your health professional for guidance.

Moderna Covid-19 vaccine side effects

Very common (may affect more than 1 in 10 people):

  • swelling of the underarm glands on the same side as the injection site
  • headache
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • muscle ache, joint aches, and stiffness
  • pain or swelling at the injection site
  • feeling very tired
  • chills
  • fever

Common (may affect up to 1 in 10 people):

  • rash
  • rash, redness, or hives at the injection site

Uncommon (may affect up to 1 in 100 people):

  • itchiness at the injection site

Rare (may affect up to 1 in 1000 people):

  • temporary one sided facial drooping (Bell’s palsy)
  • swelling of the face (Swelling of the face may occur in patients who have had facial cosmetic injections.)

Frequency unknown

    • severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis)
    • hypersensitivity

Johnson and Johnson Covid-19 vaccine side effects

Very common: may affect more than 1 in 10 people

  • headache
  • nausea
  • muscle aches
  • pain where the injection is given
  • feeling very tired

Common: may affect up to 1 in 10 people

  • redness where the injection is given
  • swelling where the injection is given
  • chills
  • joint pain
  • cough
  • fever

Uncommon: may affect up to 1 in 100 people

  • rash
  • muscle weakness
  • arm or leg pain
  • feeling weak
  • feeling generally unwell
  • sneezing
  • sore throat
  • back pain
  • tremor
  • excessive sweating

Rare: may affect up to 1 in 1 000 people

  • allergic reaction
  • hives

Very Rare: may affect up to 1 in 10 000 people

  • Following widespread use of the vaccine there have been extremely rare reports of blood clots in combination with low level of blood platelets. When these blood clots do occur, they may be in unusual or atypical locations (e.g. brain, liver, bowel, spleen).

Unknown (cannot be estimated from the available data)

  • severe allergic reaction

If you do have side effects, please record them at the coronavirus yellow card government webpage. It will help to build a picture for the future and further developments.

Covid-19 vaccine hospital hubs and vaccination centres

The Government is delivering vaccines at several hospital hubs and vaccination sites across the UK. The number of vaccination sites across the country aims to match the expected vaccine supply. Vaccinations will be offered at:

Larger vaccination centres

A new approach in the NHS, these are large-scale, re-purposed venues, including sports stadiums, theatres, and hotels, located within communities that are enabling the NHS to vaccinate large numbers of people. People will be invited to one of these sites and can book a slot that suits them using the National Booking Service.

Hospital hubs

These are based at NHS trusts, including acute, community mental health and ambulance trusts. They are targeting the health and care workers and are working closely with local authorities, local resilience forums and providers to coordinate rapid vaccination of the workforce.

They are also excellent locations for the initial deployment of new vaccines so that all clinical safety issues can be identified and managed before a wider roll-out. This was the approach taken with the launch of the Pfizer/BioNTech and the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines.

Woman i9n a black and white checked shirt about to be given a vaccine by a man in a white lab coat and blue plastic gloves

Local vaccination services

These utilise general practices, working together in groups of primary care networks, along with large and small community pharmacy sites. These services provide the largest number of locations and are well placed to support the highest risk individuals, many of whom already have a trusted relationship with their local health services.

They also coordinate and deliver vaccination to people who are unable to attend a vaccination site, including visiting care homes, the homes of housebound individuals and other settings, such as residential facilities for people with learning disabilities or autism, and to reach vulnerable groups, such as those who are experiencing homelessness.

To see a full list of local vaccination services and what happens at a vaccine appointment, visit the NHS website.

When will the Covid-19 vaccine be available and who is eligible?

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) put together a list of nine different groups who were prioritised in getting a Covid-19 vaccine in phase one.

Covid-19 vaccine priority groups

This priority list is as follows:

      1. residents in a care home for older adults and their carers
      2. all those 80 years of age and over and frontline health and social care workers
      3. all those 75 years of age and over
      4. all those 70 years of age and over and ‘clinically extremely vulnerable‘ individuals
      5. all those 65 years of age and over
      6. all individuals aged 16 years to 64 years with underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality
      7. all those 60 years of age and over
      8. all those 55 years of age and over
      9. all those 50 years of age and over.

Covid-19 vaccine rollout

In England, the first dose of the Pfizer and Oxford vaccines have already been given to the majority of the top nine priority groups.

The first doses of Moderna were administered in Glangwili Hospital in Carmarthen, Wales and The Hydro in Glasgow, Scotland on Wednesday 7th April 2021. The rollout of the Moderna vaccine in England began on Tuesday 13th April. Northern Ireland is expected to receive the Moderna vaccine this summer.

Over the past six months, a total of 39.5 million people – three quarters of the adult population – have had a first dose of a vaccine and just over 26 million people have received both doses.

If you’re in one of the nine priority groups and haven’t yet been contacted about getting the vaccine, get in touch with your GP or health care provider. You can also book one online at nhs.uk/coronavirusvaccine or call 119.

Following a plea by BBC broadcaster Jo Whiley who’s sister has a learning disability, all adults registered with a learning disability will now be prioritised for a Covid-19 vaccine along with people who have underlying health conditions.

Now that the top nine priority groups have been offered their vaccine, the second phase of vaccination has begun.

It won’t prioritise teachers, the police or any other groups, and will be done purely based on age. The Prime Minister aims to offer everyone over 18 their first injection by the end of July.

Each of the four UK nations are delivering vaccines to different age groups at different times.

As of the 18th June 2021, people aged 18 or over are now invited to have their vaccine in England.

In Scotland, people aged 18 to 29 will be eligible to book their vaccine from mid-June. However, in some areas of Scotland where cases of the virus are high, younger people are already being asked to get the jab.

In Wales and Northern Ireland, anyone over the age of 18 can now book a Covid-19 vaccine. In Wales alone, more than half of 18 to 29 year olds have already received their first dose.

With the four week delay of easing all restrictions, there is hope that two-thirds of the adult population will have had both doses of a vaccine by 19th July, particularly focusing on everyone over 40s and high risk.

The government is also aiming to give first doses to all 18 to 39 year olds by 19th July too.

Buy hand sanitiserface mask extenders or tighteners to ensure your mask fits snuggly, face mask exemption cards and more Covid essentials from the Disability Horizons Shop.

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When will PAs and unpaid carers get the vaccine?

Up until now, if you use direct payments to hire your own PA/carers or use self-employed carers, when your PAs and carers can be vaccinated has been less clear.

Some people have received letters from their councils, some have contacted their GPs, and many others say they have no idea if and when their carers can be vaccinated.

On 30th December 2020, the Government qualified that frontline health and social care workers should be prioritised within their group if they are:

  • at high risk of acquiring infection
  • at the high individual risk of developing a serious disease
  • at risk of transmitting the infection to multiple vulnerable persons or other staff in a healthcare environment.

In addition, there previously hasn’t been any clarity around whether the vaccine will be given to unpaid carers.

The Government has also said that it will be given to people, “Who are the main carer of an elderly or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if the carer falls ill.”

Although this indicates that PAs and unpaid carers who look after someone who is either clinically vulnerable or at a higher risk will be vaccinated when those groups are, it appears it will be decided on a case-by-case basis.

If you’re unsure, contact your local council or have your PA/carers contact their GP surgeries.

Covid-19 clinically extremely vulnerable

People who are defined as ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ are at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus. This group is set to receive a Covid-19 vaccine along with the over 70s.

There are two ways you may be identified as ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’:

      1. You have one or more of the conditions listed below, or
      2. Your clinician or GP has added you to the Shielded Patient List because, based on their clinical judgement, they deem to you be at higher risk of serious illness if you catch the virus.

People with the following conditions are automatically deemed clinically extremely vulnerable:

      • solid organ transplant recipients
      • people with specific cancers:
        • people with cancer who are undergoing active chemotherapy
        • people with lung cancer who are undergoing radical radiotherapy
        • people with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma who are at any stage of treatment
        • people having immunotherapy or other continuing antibody treatments for cancer
        • people having other targeted cancer treatments that can affect the immune system, such as protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors
        • people who have had bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last 6 months or who are still taking immunosuppression drugs
      • people with severe respiratory conditions including all cystic fibrosis, severe asthma and severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
      • people with rare diseases that significantly increase the risk of infections (such as severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), homozygous sickle cell disease)
      • people on immunosuppression therapies sufficient to significantly increase risk of infection
      • problems with your spleen, for example, splenectomy (having your spleen removed)
      • adults with Down’s syndrome
      • adults on dialysis or with chronic kidney disease (stage 5)
      • women who are pregnant with significant heart disease, congenital or acquired
      • other people who have also been classed as clinically extremely vulnerable, based on clinical judgement and an assessment of their needs. GPs and hospital clinicians have been provided with guidance to support these decisions.

If you think there are good clinical reasons why you should be added to the Shielded Patient List, discuss your concerns with your GP or hospital clinician.

Underlying health conditions

The sixth priority group is all individuals aged 16 years to 64 years with underlying health conditions that put them at moderate risk of serious disease and mortality.

People at moderate risk from coronavirus include people who have:

  • chronic respiratory disease, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis and severe asthma
  • chronic heart disease (and vascular disease)
  • chronic kidney disease
  • chronic liver disease
  • chronic neurological disease including epilepsy
  • Down’s syndrome
  • severe and profound learning disability
  • diabetes
  • solid organ, bone marrow and stem cell transplant recipients
  • people with specific cancers
  • immunosuppression due to disease or treatment
  • asplenia and splenic dysfunction
  • morbid obesity
  • severe mental illness.

For individuals who are fully vaccinated, you can buy our new I’ve been vaccinated Covid-19 card, lanyard or badge on the Disability Horizons Shop.

How to get the vaccine for under 16s

At the moment, there is no programme for vaccinating children under 18s. However, it is advised that children at very high risk of exposure and serious outcomes – such as older children with severe neuro-disabilities that require residential care – or living in a household with someone who is extremely vulnerable, should be offered vaccination.

To date, this has meant vaccinating a child with a jab not yet fully tested on children. But, on 4th June, the Pfizer jab was approved by MRHA for use in children age 12 to 15 – more on this below. There isn’t yet information on how this might be rolled out.

Clinicians should discuss the risks and benefits of vaccination with a parent or guardian, who should be made aware of the lack of safety data for the vaccine in children aged under 16 years. More detail on vaccination in children is set out in the Green Book – Immunisation Against Infectious Disease.

It was announced on 19th July by the UK’s vaccine minister that children 12 or over and classed as vulnerable will be offered the jab, as well as all 17-year-old who are due to turn 18 in the next three months.

In addition, children aged 12 to 17 who live with a immune suppressed person is also eligible for the vaccine.

Vaccine being put into a syringe being held in someone's hand wearing blue gloves and a white lab coat in front of a Covid-19 sign

Oxford-AstraZeneca trials in children

On Saturday 13th February 2021, it was announced that a new clinical trial will start to find out the effectiveness of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in children to see if they produce a strong immune response.

300 children aged between 6 to 17 will take part in this research, which should help to determine whether the vaccine is effective in children, but also whether them having been vaccinated will help to prevent transmission.

However, this trial was paused at the end of March while research continues as to whether the AstraZeneca jab causes blood clots.

It has now been advised people under the age of 30 should not have the AstraZeneca jab due to the risk of rare blood clots (more on this above).

Pfizer-BioNTech trails in children

Pfizer and BioNTech have been doing trials on children aged 12 to 15 in the USA. On 4th June, the MRHA approved the vaccine for use on children age 12 to 15 in the UK, which follows approval from the EU.

It is not yet known whether or how this will be rolled out to all children in this age bracket.

As well as trials in teenagers, the Pfizer vaccine is also being tested in children under 12, with the aim of involving babies from just six months old.

Moderna trials in children

Moderna has also started testing its jab on children under the age of 11.

Who can’t have the Covid-19 vaccine?

Covid-19 vaccine and pregnancy

Women who are pregnant were initially told not to have a Covid-19 vaccine. This was because there was no data on how the vaccine will affect pregnant women or their baby.

However, from Saturday 17th April, the JCVI advised pregnant women to take up the offer of the Pfizer or Moderna jab when their age group is invited for the vaccine.

This follows data of 90,000 pregnant women in the US found no safety concerns and adverse effects when getting the vaccine.

Covid-19 vaccine and breastfeeding

If you are breastfeeding, you will also now be offered the vaccine. This is a change from what was previously recommended as, like with pregnant women, there is no safety data for this specific situation. If you’re unsure, discuss it with your clinician.

People with allergies

People who have a history of “significant” allergic reactions (known as anaphylaxis) to the ingredients of the vaccine should not have it.

However, those with other allergies, such as to certain foods, can now have the vaccine.

People with weakened immune systems

For some people with weakened immune systems, a Covid-19 vaccine may not be effective. This will vary on a case-by-case basis.

People with a weakened immune system who do get the vaccine are still advised to take extra precautions until further analysis is released.

Those who cannot have the vaccine may be offered a new coronavirus antibody treatment, which can be injected or administered intravenously.

Clinical trials are beginning in the UK and initial results from the randomised control trial are expected to be published in the first half of 2021. However, the trial is expected to last for 12 months.

Will I need a Covid-19 vaccine to travel?

At the moment, a Covid-19 vaccine is not mandatory when travelling abroad. However, there is speculation that an immunity passport – or e-vaccination certificate – may be required in the future, to show that the holder has been vaccinated against coronavirus.

It’s an idea that the World Health Organisation is looking into in order to encourage safe travel between countries.

In November, the CEO of Australian carrier Qantas said that he expected such a measure to be essential for future travel, and the airline would only accept passengers who had taken a vaccine.

In addition, travelling abroad would depend on what precautions other countries are taking.

From 17th May 2021, international travel resumed for UK residents. A traffic light system has been put into place by the UK government that indicates which countries are safe to travel to.

  • Green list countries are ones in which you can travel to and return from without isolating.
  • Amber list countries are places that you should not travel to unless essential and you will have to quaritine at home for 10 days on your return to the UK.
  • Red list countries are those you should not visit unless absolutely vital. On your return to the UK, you will have to quartile in hotel for 10 days at a cost of up to £1,700.

To see a full list of the green amber and red list countries, visit the travel rules on the government website. The rules do differ in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

It is also believed that some countries have begun only excepting tourists who have been fully vaccinated. You will need to check on the foreign office website to see each country’s and territory’s requirements on Covid-19 vaccinations.

Covid-19 vaccine and face mask lying on a map of the world

Other Covid-19 vaccines in development

As well as the four vaccines that have already been approved in the UK, the government has secured access to three other vaccines being developed and still in clinical trials. These include:

  • GlaxoSmithKline/Sanofi Pasteur (Phase 1/2 trials) – 60 million doses ordered
  • Novavax (Phase 3 trials) – 60 million doses ordered
  • Valneva (Phase 1/2 trials) – 60 million doses ordered

The new variants of Covid-19

Over several months, scientists have discovered 4,000 coronavirus mutations worldwide, including in the UK, South Africa, Brazil and India.

As well as being more easily transmitted, it’s thought that some of the vaccines might be less effective against some of the variants – more on this below.

However, viruses commonly do mutate and vaccines are regularly adjusted to respond to this. In the case of Covid-19, scientists are already working on how this might apply to the new vaccines.

On Tuesday 1st June it was reported that new variants of coronavirus will be given Greek names as a way of avoiding stigma around where they originated from.

The four variants known to the public – UK, South Africa, Brazil and India – will now be given the letters Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta.

UK variant of Covid-19 (Alpha)

The first was found in the UK and it has already spread to numerous countries globally, including France, Italy, Canada, USA, Japan and Australia.

Known as B117, the UK variant was first identified in Kent in September 2020 and infected thousands of people across the region. The new strain is more easily transmittable and in mid-January 2021, there was early evidence that it may be more deadly too.

South Africa variant of Covid-19 (Beta)

There has also been a new variant detected in South Africa, which is also more transmittable but not thought to cause more severe illness.

The B.1.351 variant was first discovered in Nelson Mandela Bay in October 2020 and has since spread to 90% of South Africans testing positive for coronavirus.

It has also spread across 30 other countries including the UK, in which mass testing is taking place in parts of Kent, Hampshire, Surrey, London, Hertfordshire, West Midlands, Walsall, Merseyside  and Middlesborough in order to control the spread.

On Tuesday 13th April, it was reported that 44 new cases of the South African variant were detected in the London boroughs of Wandsworth and Lambeth and mass testing has been declared to maintain the spread of the virus.

Brazil variant of Covid-19 (Gamma)

In spring 2020, coronavirus struck the city of Manauns near the Amazon in Brazil, infecting a majority of the 2 million population.

By the summer, it was hoped most infected people would have gained antibodies. However, in December 2020 and throughout January, a new Brazilian variant – known as P1 – had been discovered, which is believed to be able to re-infect people who suffered the first strain.

As a result, all travel from South America has been banned by numerous countries, including the UK, and so far there have been no identified cases in the UK.

India variant of Covid-19 (Delta)

On Sunday 18th April, it was reported that 77 cases of a new Indian variant of Covid-19 had been found in England and Scotland.

Since then, it has become the most dominate strain of the virus in the UK with more than 7,000 cases to date. Surge testing has been taking place in many hot spots including Bolton, Blackburn, Reading, north east Hampshire and London.

Health officials have classed it as a ‘variant for concern’ and it is said to 40% more transmittable than the UK variant. India has also been put on the government’s travel ‘red list’.

Will vaccines protect people from new variants?

So far, research has found that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine does not protect against the South African variant but can prevent serious illness and hospitalisation. However, this study only looked at 2,000 people with an average age of 31.

Therefore, more research is needed to find out if the Oxford jab can protect people from the South African variant in older and vulnerable people.

However, studies have shown that the Oxford vaccine is effective against the UK variant. Research has found it is 84% effective against the original strain and 74.6% against the UK variant.

Fortunately, early results have found that having two doses of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine will give people strong T-cell responses against the UK and South African variants of Covid, suggesting that the vaccine will continue to protect against serious disease in the coming months.

It’s not yet clear if the current vaccines can protect against the Brazilian variant, but the manufacturers are working to make changes to the vaccines for any new variants that occur over the coming months and years.

It is suggests the Brazilian variant may resist antibodies in people who’ve recovered from Covid before.

Two doses of the AstraZeneca and the Pfizer vaccines are said to be highly effective against the Indian variant of Covid-19.

Authorities are in the process of trying to give second doses to as many people as possible in order to prevent the variant spreading further.

What are your thoughts on the Covid-19 vaccines? Are you eager to get vaccinated or do you still have doubts? Also, have you received one or both doses of a Covid-19 vaccine yet? Share your opinions and experiences on Facebook and Twitter @Dhorizons.

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