Everyone aged 50 and over, and those who are clinically vulnerable, are being urged to book an appointment for the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, as a “significant reduction” vaccine supplies is expected from 29 March.
The NHS has warned it is expecting a slowdown in UK supplies for the whole of April as it focuses on administering second doses to those who were vaccinated earlier in the year.
The news comes as more than 28 million people in the UK have now received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, while over 2.5 million have been given their second dose.
Who can book a vaccine appointment?
NHS England has said that no appointments for a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine should be booked by people under the age of 50, unless they fall into a higher priority group.
The delay in vaccine supplies means that people in their 40s will likely have to wait until May to receive the jab, following problems with a shipment of the AstraZeneca vaccine from India.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said that there will be no weeks in April with no first doses of the vaccine administered, and no cancellation of appointments due to supply issues.
The government is still hoping to vaccinate the 32 million people in the top nine priority groups by 15 April, with the aim of offering every UK adult their first dose by the end of July.
However, with the expected reduction in supply in April, Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director for the NHS, is calling on anyone aged 50 and over who has not yet received their first dose to book an appointment in the next few days.
People aged 18 and over who are clinically vulnerable should also book themselves in for a vaccine.
GPs will continue contacting eligible patients and offering the vaccine to anyone who has not yet received one.
Why is there a delay between doses?
The UK government announced at the end of last year that the two doses of the Covid-19 vaccines would be administered between four and 12 weeks apart, rather than the initially recommended three to four week gap.
This decision was taken in order to prioritise giving the first dose of the vaccine to as many people on the priority list as possible, in an effort to protect the greatest number of vulnerable people in the shortest time.
A study has found that a single dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine is 76 per cent effective in protections against infection between 22 and 90 days after the injection. This rises to 82.4 per cent after a second dose.
Researchers have said that the findings from the trial support the decision made by the UK to extend the initial dose and the second dose up to 112 weeks.
Similarly, a separate study found that a single dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine provides a “very high” level of protection, becoming up to 90 per cent effective after just 21 days. This again supports the UK decision to delay the timing of the second dose.
It is not yet clear how long immunity lasts beyond 21 days without a booster dose, but researchers have said it is “unlikely” to majorly decline during the following nine weeks.
How do I book my second dose?
If you are eligible to book your Covid-19 vaccination, you can do so online via the NHS website.
Currently, you can only book an appointment if any of the following apply:
you are aged 50 or over you are at high risk from coronavirus (clinically extremely vulnerable) you are an eligible frontline health or social care worker you have a condition that puts you at higher risk (clinically vulnerable) you have a learning disability you are a main carer for someone at high risk from coronavirus
If you are not yet eligible, you should wait to be contacted. The NHS will let you know when it is your turn to have the vaccine. You should not contact the NHS for a vaccination before then.
When you book, you will be asked for information including:
your name and date of birth your NHS number – this is a 10 digit number you can find on any letter the NHS has sent you, for example, 485 777 3546
If you do not know your NHS number you can still book your appointment.
When booking your appointment, you will must book your first and second doses at the same time.
Your second dose will be given around 11 to 12 weeks after your first dose.
You should use the NHS website to book your appointment first, but if you cannot do this you can phone 119 free of charge.
What are the side effects?
Some people may experience side effects after the vaccine, but these are usually mild and typically only last for a few days.
Some of the most common side effects of the coronavirus vaccine include:
tenderness, swelling and/or redness at the injection site headache muscle ache feeling tired fever (temperature above 37.8°C).
A less common side effect is swollen glands in the armpit or neck, on the same side as the arm where you had the vaccine. This can last for around 10 days, but if it lasts longer see your doctor.
If you feel uncomfortable, you can take paracetamol after your jab.
It is important to get your second dose of the vaccine, even if you have mild side effects after the first dose.