Covid: What do over-18s need to know about the vaccine?

By Philippa Roxby
Health reporter

image copyrightGetty Images

The Covid vaccine will be offered to anyone aged 18 and over in England from Friday.

What’s more, the Pfizer jab has been approved for children aged 12 and over, although it’s not been decided whether most teenagers will be vaccinated.

Who can get a vaccine now?

Will jabs affect my fertility?

Not only is there no evidence that vaccines cause fertility problems in men or women, but experts say there’s no realistic way they could.

Claims to the contrary on social media are false.

The jab involves introducing into the body a harmless fragment of the virus’s genetic material, or the instructions to make it. There is no way it can give you Covid, or affect your DNA in any way.

The only thing happening in your body is your immune system firing up, getting ready to protect you against future encounters with the virus.

In fact, getting coronavirus itself has the potential to affect fertility.

And many women involved in vaccine trials have gone onto conceive.

What if I am pregnant or breastfeeding?

Covid can make some women seriously ill in late pregnancy and this can increase the risk of babies being born early. A recent study also found a slightly higher rate of stillbirth in pregnant women who tested positive for the virus around the time of birth.

That’s why the UK’s vaccine committee says pregnant women should be offered a vaccine which protects against Covid.

The vaccine has been given to 120,000 pregnant women in the US. Based on that data, pregnancy experts in the UK have concluded it is safe and effective in preventing Covid-19.

The advice is to have a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, because there is more evidence those are safe for pregnant women. You are encouraged to discuss any questions you might have with your GP or midwife.

If you prefer, you can delay vaccination until after your 12-week scan, but there is no medical reason to do so, beyond your own peace of mind.

If you’re planning a pregnancy or are breastfeeding, you can still have a vaccine, government guidance says.

Does the vaccine affect periods?

Some women say they’ve experienced unusually heavy, painful or prolonged periods after being jabbed but it’s not known if the vaccine was the cause.

There are plausible reasons the vaccine might cause changes to periods. The jab prompts an increase in activity in the immune system, which also plays a role in the menstrual cycle.

These changes might feel unpleasant or worrying, but there is nothing to suggest they can affect your fertility or cause any long-term damage to your health.

media captionShould you get the Covid vaccine if you’re pregnant?

Can I drink alcohol after the vaccine?

There is no published data on the effects of alcohol on how well the body builds immunity after the vaccine.

While there’s no evidence to suggest you need to avoid alcohol altogether, drinking in large quantities can suppress your immune system.

So it’s best not to overdo it for a few days, especially if you have vaccine side-effects.

What vaccine will I get and can I choose?

You can’t choose what vaccine you get – it’s based on your age and whatever vaccines are available when you get your jab.

However, if you’re under 40 or pregnant you will be offered Pfizer or Moderna.

What are the side effects and the risk of blood clots?

Most are mild, completely normal and disappear after a few days.

They happen because the body’s defences are reacting to the vaccine, and include:

  • a sore arm
  • tiredness
  • fever
  • headache
  • feeling sick

People aged under 55 are more likely to get side-effects from Pfizer and Moderna.

With AstraZeneca, side effects are more common after the first dose than the second.

Under-40s are being offered alternatives to AstraZeneca because of a possible link between the vaccine and extremely rare blood clots in a tiny number of people.

It’s not clear if the vaccine is the cause, but the clots appear to happen slightly more often in younger adults.

For everyone else, the benefits of AZ and the other vaccines far outweigh risks, the UK regulator says.

Remember, 1,900 people in every million have died from Covid in the UK, and blood clots are a common symptom of the disease.

media captionWhy it is normal for some people to experience short-term side effects from Covid-19 vaccines

Do I have to have the vaccine?

No. But everyone is being urged to get two doses to protect themselves, their family, friends and wider society.

  • have saved more than 13,000 UK lives, according to Public Health England
  • help reduce person to person virus spread (or transmission)
  • help protect against new variants

Without a jab, you may not be able to travel abroad or do certain jobs.

What about people with allergies?

A very small number of people have experienced a severe allergic reaction, anaphylaxis, after the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

This can happen with some vaccines. You should discuss any allergies with your healthcare professional.

What if I’ve got long Covid?

A recent study, not yet published, suggests vaccination can help improve long Covid symptoms.

The vaccine could press the body’s reset button and help it recover, researchers say.

What if I hate needles?

When you are jabbed, say you don’t like needles. Then look away.

Many people say the injection is painless and hardly notice anything.

Will children get the jab?

The Pfizer jab has now been approved in the UK for 12-15-year-olds, although it’s not yet been decided whether to widen the vaccination programme to include them.

The vaccine is safe and effective in this age group and the benefits outweigh any risks, the UK regulator says.

Older teens, rather than younger ones, are more likely to be infected and pass on the virus, although they’re very unlikely to fall ill.

The argument for vaccinating them would be to keep cases low, keep schools open and protect adults and the vulnerable.

But some say this is unethical with so many at-risk adults still unvaccinated around the world.

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