The Covid-19 vaccine has already saved thousands of lives – and if you haven’t had it yet, it’s not too late.
The arrival of a new variant – Omicron – has made it more important than ever that we all pitch in. In particular, the booster jab is vital, offering more protection against Omicron than the first two doses.
It’s understandable that some of those who have not yet had their booster jab want to know more before saying yes to a vaccination. So we spoke to a host of medical experts to answer the questions you might still have.
I’ve already had two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine: am I not protected enough?
The new variant of Covid-19 is highly infectious and spreading fast – so it’s more important than ever for you to get vaccinated.
A booster will strengthen your protection from serious illness from Covid-19 and give you the best possible defence – for you, your family and friends, and those you care about. The extra jab brings your protection against symptoms from Covid-19 infections up to almost 90 per cent.
“It is important to get your booster to give you the best possible protection against the virus and should significantly reduce your risk of serious illness and hospitalisation. Unjabbed people are eight times more likely to be hospitalised than those who have had both doses and a booster.” – Professor Mahendra Patel OBE
Of course, vaccination also strengthens the immune system against the effects of so-called “long Covid,” too.
I had a second dose of the vaccine not that long ago. Isn’t it important to wait?
Medical experts have made clear that they believe it is absolutely safe to have your booster jab after a three-month gap from your second jab. Dr Farzana Hussain likens it to the jabs that babies have to up their immunity against diseases that have been around for far longer.
“Anybody who’s got a baby will think we give our babies an injection for DTP – diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough – at two months, three months and four months – only a month between them,” the east London GP said.
“Just like we protect our babies from lots of infections by giving them injections with a four week gap, we’re protecting ourselves against what is a new virus. It’s no different to what we do to babies,” she continued.
You can get a Covid-19 booster vaccine three months after your second dose – and 28 days after any Covid-19 infection.
I have a condition that makes me immunosuppressed and more vulnerable to infection. Is it safe for me?
Dr Hussain says that the Covid-19 vaccine is different from some vaccines because – rather than injecting with a small amount of a virus – these jabs are instead designed to give you, and train, antibodies to any future infection.
“The immunosuppressed feel that because their immune system is weaker, will they then react to the vaccine very badly? Will it be bad for them? The great thing about this vaccine is that it’s not a live vaccine,” she explains.
“A live vaccine has a virus in it – a much weaker amount – but these vaccines are not live vaccines. You can’t get a Covid-19 infection from having a Covid-19 vaccine – it’s not possible.
“So not only is it safe for people who are immunosuppressed, I would say please do not worry you’ll get an infection as it will do the opposite – it’s going to make sure your body builds up its soldiers and knows how to fight infection,” she says.
Indeed, the vaccine’s effectiveness against infection means that some people who are immunosuppressed can get their booster jab sooner. Speak to your GP to find out if you are in that category.
I’ve heard stories about side effects of the jab. Is it actually safe?
Yes, is the short answer. The booster vaccine has been approved by the totally independent Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency in the UK – as well as across the world.
Millions of people have already been protected from serious illness by getting vaccinated and they report that if they get side effects at all, they are generally very mild and last for around 24 hours. So even if you experience bad side-effects, it’ll only cost you a day or so – whereas illness from Covid-19 can affect you for much, much longer.
“The Covid-19 vaccine is quick, easy and free and don’t worry about the side effects; like all medicines, the COVID-19 vaccines may cause some side effects, but most of these are mild and short-term, lasting no longer than a week, and not everyone gets them. Also – if you weren’t able to get your booster dose because you had Covid-19 remember to book your jab 28 days after you no longer have the virus.” – Dr. Emeka Okorocha
Dr. Lucy Pocock agrees. The academic GP at the University of Bristol says that the side effects people have experienced – like short-term pain and swelling where the jab has been given, fatigue or a headache – are usually mild symptoms, and far less severe than what Covid-19 could do.
And does it really work?
Yes, it does. “Two doses of the vaccine is very good at protecting against the Delta variant, but, as we know, the dominant variant now is Omicron,” explains Dr Viki Male, a reproductive immunologist at Imperial College London. “Against Omicron, two doses of the vaccine are only 50 per cent protective against hospitalisation and a third dose boosts that protection up to around 90 per cent.”
Dr. Pocock agrees. “It is true that vaccine effectiveness against symptomatic disease with the Omicron variant is lower than compared to the Delta variant, however protection against hospitalisation is much greater after a booster dose, so it’s really important people take them up when offered,” she says.
I’m young and in good health. Do I really need to give up the time?
Doctors across the country on the frontline of the fight against the virus are united – it’s vital to get boosted now.
Dr. Emeka Okorocha, who works in London and the south-east, is insistent that everybody who is able get their jab does so.
“As a Doctor, I have seen first-hand the effect that Covid-19 can have on people and I want to remind everyone that you can still get seriously ill with the virus, so it is important to get the jab to keep ourselves, your friends and loved ones safe,” he said.
Being young and healthy is no guarantee against being struck down by Covid-19. So-called ‘long Covid’ – with symptoms like fatigue or breathlessness – is becoming better understood, and is certainly something better to be avoided. The vaccine helps protect against that, too.
I’m pregnant and concerned about the efficacy of the vaccine. Why should I get a Booster vaccine?
Yes. And as we’ve learnt more about the virus, it’s become clear that it’s far more dangerous for a pregnant woman to be unvaccinated than anything else.
Being pregnant can put you at greater risk of getting seriously ill with Covid-19 which brings extra risks to your newborn and increases the chances of your baby being born prematurely or even stillborn.
If you’re pregnant, make sure to get boosted now. Data from the UK Obstetric Surveillance System shows 96 per cent of pregnant women admitted to hospital with Covid-19 were unjabbed between May and October last year, and a third required breathing support. Around 1 in 5 women who are hospitalised with the virus need to be delivered preterm to help them recover and 1 in 5 of their babies need care in the neonatal unit.
Dr Jenny Jardine, from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, is seven months pregnant – but has just had her Covid-19 booster jab.
“Both as a doctor and pregnant mother myself, we can now be very confident that the COVID-19 vaccinations provide the best possible protection for you and your unborn child against this virus.
“I would strongly call on all pregnant women like me, if you haven’t had the vaccine yet, to
either speak to your GP or midwife if you still have questions and then book right away,” she said.
It takes up too much time to get jabbed!
IIt’s been made really easy to get boosted now. You can book on the NHS website, or use a walk-in jab centre.
It takes less than half an hour – and makes you, your family and friends, and those you love safer from the virus.
Go to nhs.uk/coronavirus to find out more.