Vaccines for coronavirus (COVID-19)

The majority of adults in the UK have now had both coronavirus vaccine doses. Our information gives a summary of what people affected by dementia need to know.

What is a vaccine?

We all have our own natural protection – the immune system – that defends our bodies from viruses, bacteria and other infectious causes of disease.

Vaccines help to ‘train’ our immune systems to fight infections so that we can prevent them from making us ill. Most traditional vaccines contain dead or weakened versions of the virus or bacterium, or sometimes just small pieces of these. Modern vaccines often contain small pieces of the viral or bacterial genetic code (DNA or RNA).

The vaccine 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, the 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.

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.

Should people affected by dementia have the vaccine?

Vaccination is voluntary and people should decide for themselves whether to have it or not. The NHS guide for older adults has summary information to help people decide, based on:

  • who is at highest risk (including older people and those with underlying health conditions)
  • vaccine safety and effectiveness
  • side effects.

You cannot catch COVID-19 from the vaccine. There is no evidence that any of the vaccines makes dementia worse. There is also no evidence that the vaccine can make someone without dementia more likely to develop the condition. 

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.

Expert viewpoint

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

BGS vaccine advice

How can I get my first or second coronavirus vaccines?

The vaccines have already been offered to people in huge numbers. Some people will get a letter inviting them to book an appointment. Don’t call the GP about this until you are invited. You should try to make the booked appointment.

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

If you have not had your first or second coronavirus vaccines, 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.

The guidance from the government's Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) sets out the priority groups for vaccination. 

Some people will be offered a third coronavirus vaccine in the autumn. If you are eligible, you'll be invited when it is your turn.

Third doses for people with weaker immune systems

For most people, having two doses of the coronavirus vaccine gives a very high level of protection. But for people who have weakened immune systems, the vaccine may not have worked as well. This means they could still be at risk of serious illness from coronavirus even after having both vaccinations. 

Scientists have recommended a third vaccine for people whose immune systems do not work properly. This is to help them build up enough protection against coronavirus. It is recommended that the third vaccination should be with the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. A third dose will be offered to people with conditions like HIV and lymphomas, and people who take medicines that make their immune system weaker. 

Having dementia or being older does not make a person eligible for a third dose, as the first two vaccines are likely to have worked well for these people. However, people over 50 and those living in care homes will be eligible for a third booster vaccination.

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

Third booster doses for vulnerable people

For people who do not have weakened immune systems, two vaccine doses are likely to have given a high amount of protection. However, this protection may go down over time as the vaccines ‘wear off’. This could leave people at risk from coronavirus again.

There will be a COVID-19 booster vaccination programme from the end of September 2021. This third dose for people at higher risk from coronavirus will offer extra protection over winter, including against new variants of coronavirus. 

The third booster vaccine will be offered to the same people who were prioritised for the first vaccines, in the following order: 

  1. Care home residents and staff
  2. People aged 80 and over, and frontline health and social care workers
  3. People aged 75 and over
  4. People aged 70 and over, and adults who are clinically extremely vulnerable
  5. People aged 65 and over
  6. Adults who are at higher risk from COVID-19 
  7. People aged 60 and over
  8. People aged 55 and over
  9. People aged 50 and over

Third booster vaccines will only be given when at least six months have passed since your second coronavirus vaccine. It is recommended that the Pfizer vaccine is used for the booster vaccine, regardless of which vaccine brand you had for your first vaccines doses. 

Where would I go to get vaccinated?

The vaccination programme means vaccinating millions of people over a few months in lots of different places. These places will 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).
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