Since the UK launched its COVID-19 vaccination programme in December, more than 22 million people have received their first jab – including health and social care workers and the over 65s. The good news is that we’re already starting to see an impact. "By having the COVID-19 vaccine, hospitalisation cases are decreasing dramatically, by 94% for the Oxford vaccine in Scotland and over 80% for all the COVID vaccines in England," says Dr Will Budd, a clinical research physician at Imperial College London.
With many of the nation’s grandparents now vaccinated, the rollout is continuing based on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) priority list. Cohort 6 is the latest group to be invited for their first jab – which is great news if you’ve got an underlying health condition that puts you at risk. If you haven’t already, you should be among the next people to be invited to book a vaccination appointment, along with the over 60s and carers.
Who is included?
You’re considered clinically vulnerable if you have any of the following conditions: chronic respiratory disease, including COPD, cystic fibrosis and severe asthma; chronic heart, vascular, kidney or liver diseases; chronic neurological disease, including epilepsy; Down’s syndrome; learning disabilities; diabetes; specific cancers; immunosuppression due to disease or treatment; asplenia and splenic dysfunction; morbid obesity; severe mental illness; or if you’re a recipient of a solid organ, bone marrow or stem cell transplant.
Unlike the rest of the vaccine priority list, which is ordered by age, adults of all ages from 16 to 65 are now eligible for their vaccine if they have one of these underlying health conditions. You’re also included if you’re a carer for someone else. This means there’s no need for you to wait until the rest of your age group is being vaccinated so don’t hesitate to get your appointment booked. Hopefully you’ll already have been contacted if you’re included but if you haven’t heard anything and think you should have, get in touch with your GP to confirm.
Why it’s important to get your vaccine
The vaccine priority list has been worked out using the two main risk factors for getting seriously ill if you catch COVID-19: age and underlying health conditions. "It’s especially important for people with underlying conditions to receive the vaccine as you are more likely to go to hospital with COVID-19 complications if you have a pre-existing health condition," Dr Budd explains.
The best advice we can give is to have the vaccine when it's your turn.
By having the vaccine, you’re not only protecting yourself from COVID-19 but also helping to reduce the pressure on the NHS so that healthcare services can start getting back to normal. "The best advice we can give is to have the vaccine when it’s your turn," says Martin Ledwick, head information nurse at Cancer Research UK. "It is protecting the NHS for everybody."
What you need to know about the vaccines
There are currently two vaccines in use in the UK, the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine and the AstraZeneca (Oxford) vaccine, both of which are the best way to protect yourself against COVID-19 and highly effective in reducing infections and hospitalisation. It doesn’t matter which vaccine you get so take whichever one’s on offer at your appointment.
Like all medicines, both vaccines may cause some mild side effects but having an underlying health condition won’t make these side effects any more severe. If you do experience side effects, these will usually only last up to a couple of days and certainly no longer than a week at the absolute most.
Side effects that you might experience include: a sore arm where the needle went in; feeling tired, achy or nauseous; a headache; and a temperature or fever for a few hours afterwards. These are all normal immune responses which show that the vaccine is doing its job, and you should be able to manage them with paracetamol, so they’re nothing to worry about.
When will the rest of your friends be vaccinated?
Once these high-risk groups have received their first dose of the vaccine, the rollout will continue by age. Over 55s are already beginning to receive their invites and they’ll be followed by those aged 50 and over, then people in their 40s, 30s and finally those aged 18 to 29. The aim is for everyone over 18 to receive their first vaccine by 31st July, with second doses being given up to 12 weeks later.
This does mean your friends who don’t have an underlying condition may still be waiting a while for full protection so, even after you’ve been vaccinated, it’s important to continue following national guidelines to keep your unvaccinated mates safe.
"When you get the COVID-19 vaccine it takes around 12 days for the protection to start, so don’t take any risks after being vaccinated. Don’t let your social distancing lapse, still wear a face covering and keep washing your hands," says Dr Budd. "Be aware of others who may not have had the vaccine yet; you may put them at risk if you change your behaviours."
Be aware of others who may not have had the vaccine yet; you may put them at risk if you change your behaviours.
If you don’t have an underlying condition, the NHS will let you know by phone, text or post when it’s your turn and invite you to book an appointment online. You may also get a call at short notice if a vaccination slot becomes available, in order to ensure doses don’t go to waste if there’s a cancellation.
Be aware, too, that there are lots of vaccine scams going around. The NHS will never ask for your bank or card details or for copies of your personal documents, and there are no authorised vaccines available privately.