Phil Day By Superintendent Pharmacist Published:

The principle behind vaccination was discovered in the 18th century, and in modern times vaccines help prevent up to 3 million deaths worldwide every year and are crucial to the Government’s plan for reducing the infection rate of COVID-19 across the country.

Why are vaccines used? 

Vaccines are the most effective way to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, and vaccination is also one of the most effective ways of avoiding disease. Some people may feel hesitant when it comes to being vaccinated, but according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) a further 1.5 million deaths across the globe could be avoided each year if rates of vaccination increased.

Thanks to the process of routine vaccination, a number of diseases, such as smallpox and tetanus, which previously caused extremely high illness and even death, are no longer around or are extremely rare. However, if people stop getting vaccinated then some diseases could spread again.

How do vaccines work?

Vaccines work in two ways: they prompt the immune system to make antibodies against the disease in advance, so your white blood cells are able to recognise it and fight it quickly if you are exposed to it later, meaning you’ll recover faster and often reduce the severity of illness. Having a vaccine also helps to protect your community through ‘herd immunity’ – if a substantial number of people are vaccinated it becomes more difficult for the disease to spread to those not vaccinated.

What vaccines do we have? 

There are a number of NHS funded vaccinations you should have from the age of 8 weeks old. Here’s the schedule of vaccines everyone is recommended to have. 

Children under 1 year old should have: 

Children aged 1 to 15 should have: 

Adult vaccines:

The following vaccines are also provided to pregnant women: 

There are also a number of vaccines available for ‘at-risk’ people who need extra protection, for example those with an underlying health condition. You can find out more here.

If you’re travelling outside of the UK, you may need extra vaccinations against some diseases found in other parts of the world. Find out more.

How can I get a vaccination? 

You’ll usually be contacted by your GP surgery if you or your child is due for a routine vaccination. This could be by letter, text or email. 

For COVID-19 vaccinations the NHS will contact you directly, due to the scale of the vaccination programme – find out more.

For travel vaccines, you should check which vaccines you’ll need when booking your trip and then contact your GP at least 8 weeks before you’re due to travel.

How safe are vaccines? 

Any vaccine that is approved goes through several clinical trials and safety checks that all licensed medicines must go through. The MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) is the Government’s medicines safety agency who ensure the safety of medicines and vaccines. 

You can find out more about how vaccines are licensed, tested and monitored on the Oxford University Vaccine Knowledge Project website.

Are there any side effects from vaccines?

Similar to taking a medication, there may be some side effects associated with vaccinations, most of which are mild and pass by themselves; not everybody gets them. Muscle pain where the injection was given, headaches, and tiredness are common side effects. Move the arm to distribute the vaccine more quickly, and try a simple painkiller if you experience discomfort. 

If you experience any side effects, talk to your doctor or pharmacist. This includes any possible side effects that are not listed in the leaflet you’ll receive with your medicine. You can also report side effects directly to the manufacturer and the Government’s medicine safety body, the MHRA, via the Yellow Card Scheme. Reporting side effects helps to provide more information on the safety of medicines so guidelines and leaflets can be changed in the future if necessary.

All vaccination staff are trained to recognise and manage the symptoms of an allergic reaction (anaphylaxis). This is very rare, and will usually happen within 2 minutes of the injection being given. Medicines will be available to treat you quickly if this happens. In the case of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine specifically, you will be asked to remain in the vaccination centre for 15 minutes after the injection; this is not necessary for the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, but you will still be asked not to drive for 15 minutes afterwards.

You can find out more about vaccinations on the NHS website

Pharmacy2U are proud to be supporting the NHS in vaccinating the nation against COVID-19, with vaccination clinics across England providing COVID-19 vaccinations to everyone eligible, on behalf of the NHS. Find out more.