The UK’s rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine is good news – it means life will soon return to normal as millions of people have been vaccinated.
Thanks to the prioritisation of funding, resources and a global effort in the face of an emergency, vaccines have been able to be approved quickly, with the rollout going well.
More than half the UK’s adult population have now been vaccinated. This phenomenal achievement is testament to the efforts of the NHS and GPs around the country, but it is absolutely crucial that everyone gets a vaccine when their time comes
Medical and scientific experts are all of the view that an effective vaccine is the best method to protect against Covid-19. We spoke to some of them to answer your key questions.
Why was the vaccine developed so quickly?
The Covid-19 vaccines were developed quickly, because additional resources and massive support were dedicated to it. Dr Raghib Ali, a Senior Clinical Research Associate at the University of Cambridge, says there are three big reasons.
“The first is that the vaccines themselves weren’t starting from scratch,” he says. “Both the Oxford/AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines used existing technology.
“The second thing is that a huge amount of money was put into developing the vaccine and the clinical trials, which are often underfunded. On this occasion, governments around the world put money in.
And the third reason was the willingness of people across the world to get involved.
“The large clinical trials were quicker than usual because many more people were willing to volunteer than normal.”
All those together meant that the process to develop and approve a Covid-19 jab was quicker than usual, but as Dr Ali says, “no corners were cut.
“Every single step that was taken for previous vaccines was taken for this one. This vaccine has involved more people in clinical trials than any other.”
What about side effects? I’ve heard of people falling ill a couple of days later.
Like all medicines, vaccines can cause side-effects. But all the evidence is that serious side effects are extremely rare as a result of the Covid-19 jab.
Dr Nikki Kanani, a GP based in south-east London and Medical Director of Primary Care for NHS England and NHS Improvement, says she is asked regularly about long-term side effects.
“As a doctor I wouldn’t be giving this vaccine if I wasn’t completely confident that the work that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency [MHRA] and scientists have done to assure that the vaccine is safe and effective has been really, really robust. The confidence comes from knowing how other vaccines behave and we have other vaccines all the time, as we grow through childhood but also when we go abroad.”
As a doctor, I wouldn’t be giving this vaccine if I wasn’t completely confident that the work that MHRA have done, that the scientists have done to assure ourselves that the vaccine is safe and effective, has been really, really robust,” she tells us.
Confidence also comes from, she says, the way other vaccines operate – both in childhood as well as when we travel abroad throughout our lives.
“If side effects occur, they usually happen within 24 hours or a few weeks, rather than years down the line.
“As we know, scientists have been testing the vaccines for months now and using them in the real world since December, and all the data shows that serious side effects – whether they’re instant or later – are very, very rare,” she says.
Cambridge’s Dr. Ali agrees. “Tens of millions of people have already had the vaccine around the world, including more than 20 million in the UK,” he says.
“About 20 per cent of people get short-term side-effects, like fatigue or tiredness. In my case I experienced some of these for a couple of days.
“But I’ve seen the alternative, which is getting Covid itself and potentially ending up in intensive care or dying. That is the way to think of it. It is better to take the vaccine rather than taking the risk of getting Covid-19,” he says.
Like all medicines, vaccines can cause side effects. Most of these are mild and short-term, lasting no longer than a week, and not everyone gets them.
Isn’t it better to wait a bit longer?
Hundreds of thousands of people across the world took part in clinical trials to establish the safety of the vaccine.
Dr. Ali says it’s “understandable” that some people would want to wait to see how a new medicine works, but that “we don’t need to wait any longer – we know it’s safe.”
“Every single side effect from previous vaccines has been discovered in the first few weeks rather than the first few months or years,” he says.
Once I’ve had my first jab, do I really need a second?
Having your second dose is really important when the time comes. The first dose of the vaccine provides a high level of protection, but for that protection to last longer, everyone needs to get a second dose.
I’m young, fit and healthy. Do I really need to risk it?
It’s worth saying again – the vaccine has been monitored and tested by the UK’s highly-regarded medicines regulator. There’s no evidence the vaccine is anything but safe and effective.
Dr Kanani says that there are still today thousands of people in hospital who thought that Covid wouldn’t affect them but have found that they really became quite unwell with Covid-19. Other young people are still suffering from the effects of ‘long Covid,’ with symptoms sticking around for much longer than they expected.
“We want you to stay fit so you can enjoy being young,” she says. “Right now one of the most important things you can do is to take the vaccine as soon as you’re offered it. It’s not just about protecting you, but you help to protect others and in the same way help us all get back to the people we love again.”
Getting life back to normal right across the country relies on all of us doing our bit – no matter our age, our ethnicity, or anything else. That means getting the jab when you’re offered it – safe in the knowledge that all experts have signed off the vaccine as both safe and effective.