Vaccines for coronavirus (COVID-19)

Our information gives a summary of what people affected by dementia need to know about the COVID-19 vaccines, including booster doses.

Book a coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination

Visit the NHS website to book your COVID-19 vaccine, or manage an appointment.

What is a vaccine?

Vaccines helps our immune system learn how to protect the body without the risk of us getting the disease. This means that, if we later come across the real virus or bacterium, our body is better prepared to recognise it and get rid of the infection before it can make us ill.

Which coronavirus vaccines are currently approved in the UK?

At present, four vaccines have been approved for use in the UK. This decision was based on trials – many involving tens of thousands of people. Approval means that the vaccines protect people from getting ill with COVID-19 and are safe.

  1. The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine contains a small piece of coronavirus genetic code to make the spike protein found on the surface of the virus. This protein triggers the body’s immune system to find and destroy any natural, live virus.
  2. The Oxford University and AstraZeneca vaccine contains DNA to make the same spike protein. 
  3. The Moderna vaccine  works much like the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
  4. The Janssen vaccine works like the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

For the Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines, people will receive at least two injections. Having two injections makes the vaccine work better and offer protection for longer. The first dose may stop working without the second.

Should people affected by dementia have the COVID-19 vaccine?

Vaccines are the best way to protect people affected by dementia from coronavirus. People who have been vaccinated are much less likely to become seriously ill. 

You cannot catch COVID-19 from the vaccine.

A person can have the vaccine no matter what medicines they are taking for their dementia.

It is a person’s choice whether or not to have the vaccine. For people with dementia, decisions on vaccination may raise issues of mental capacity. We have information about consent to vaccination for a person with dementia.

Can the coronavirus vaccine make dementia worse?

There is no evidence that any of the vaccines make dementia worse.

There is also no evidence that the vaccine can make someone who doesn’t have dementia more likely to develop the condition. 

Expert viewpoint

Read what doctors at the British Geriatrics Society (BGS) say about COVID-19 vaccination for older people.

BGS vaccine advice

Who can have the coronavirus vaccines?

Everyone aged 12 or older in the UK can have a first and second COVID-19 vaccine. You have to leave 12 weeks between your first and second vaccine. If you are at high risk from COVID-19, you can have your second vaccine after eight weeks.

Everyone aged 16 or older in the UK can have a first, second and booster COVID-19 vaccine. You have to wait three months (91 days) after your second vaccine to have your booster.

Some people are eligible to have a fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. See below section on Fourth doses. 

If you are not currently registered with a GP, you should register now to get a vaccine. 

You can book an appointment on the NHS coronavirus vaccination website. You can also call 119 for free, between 7am and 11pm seven days a week.

All vaccines are free and you should not be asked for any payment. People will not be given a choice of which vaccine they are offered.

Fourth doses of the COVID-19 vaccine

Some people will be able to have four doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. This is done in one of two ways:

Three primary doses + one booster

  • This is for people over 12 years old with weak immune systems, because the first two doses may not have worked as well for them. You have to wait eight weeks (56 days) after your last vaccine to have your third dose.

Two primary doses + two boosters

  • This is for people who are over 75, or a resident in a care home. These are the people most at risk from coronavirus. The first vaccines will have worked well for these people, but they become less effective over time. You have to wait three months (91 days) after your last vaccine to have your third dose.

Your GP or hospital specialist will write to you inviting you to book fourth dose. You will need to bring the letter with you to your appointment. A clinician (usually a nurse or doctor) at the site will check to make sure that you're eligible for a fourth dose.

If you think you're eligible for a fourth dose but you do not have a suitable letter, contact your GP or hospital specialist. 

If you are offered a fourth dose, you should take it as soon as you can. It will offer extra protection, including against new variants of coronavirus.

It is recommended that the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine is used for booster and fourth dose vaccines, no matter which vaccine brand you had for your first vaccines doses.

Full guidance from the JCVI about third doses for immunosuppressed people can be found on the government website.

Where do I go to get vaccinated?

The vaccination programme involves vaccinating millions of people over a few months in lots of different places. These places include:

  • hospital hubs – for older patients and care staff
  • GP surgeries and community sites
  • care homes – for residents and staff
  • community pharmacies
  • mass vaccination centres (in places such as sports venues and conference centres).

How effective are the coronavirus vaccines?

Results for all four vaccines show that they are very effective at preventing symptoms of coronavirus disease (COVID-19). All four vaccines seem to work well in older people and those with pre-existing health conditions. There is some evidence that they don't work quite as well against some of the new variants of coronavirus as against the original strains. But they all still offer a high level of protection against more severe COVID-19.

These results show that vaccination of people most at risk from COVID-19 stops many of them from getting ill. 

People who have had the vaccine are also less likely to pass coronavirus on to other people who have not. But people who have had the vaccine should still follow guidance on keeping safe.

Vaccine side effects

Like all vaccines, the COVID-19 vaccines have a risk of side effects. These are mostly mild and can include:

  • a sore arm – where the vaccine is injected
  • tiredness
  • headache
  • aches
  • feeling or being sick.

You can take painkillers, such as paracetamol, if you need to. If your symptoms don’t get better after four days or you are worried, call NHS 111 for advice.

Links have been reported between the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and extremely rare blood clots. As a precaution, adults under 40 in the UK are now being offered a different vaccine if available. Anyone who has already had one vaccine dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine with no serious side-effects should take up the second dose.

It is very rare to have an allergic reaction to the vaccine ingredients – none of them contain animal products. Talk to the doctor if you have ever had a serious allergic reaction to a vaccine.

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