Covid-19 booster vaccines: experts answer common concerns for people worried about getting their latest jab

The latest Covid-19 vaccination figures show that almost 37 million people in the UK have received their booster jabs, with approximately 52 million people having had their first vaccination and about 48 million their second. But even though huge numbers of the population have had the booster vaccination, a significant proportion of people are still unsure or hesitant about receiving it. Here, we look into concerns around the booster, and find out why it’s so vital to have it.

Who can have the booster?
Everyone aged 16 and over is now eligible for a booster vaccine. Also, 12-15-year-olds who are clinically vulnerable are now able to get their booster.

Why should I get the booster vaccine?
It’s important we take up all vaccinations offered, including boosters, since they deliver the best possible protection against the virus, significantly reducing our risk of serious illness and hospitalisation. Research shows that unvaccinated people are eight times more likely to be hospitalised than those who have had both doses of the vaccine and a booster. And because the booster vaccine lessens our chances of contracting the virus, it also lessens our chances of suffering from long Covid, which can have serious and debilitating long-term effects.

A&E doctor Dr Emeka Okorocha says: “I have seen firsthand the effect that Covid-19 can have on people – you can still get seriously ill with the virus. Covid-19 is highly infectious and the vaccine remains our best line of defence against it.”

Is the booster jab actually effective against the Omicron variant?
Yes, it is effective. “Two doses of the vaccine are very good at protecting against the Delta variant but, as we know, the dominant variant now is Omicron,” says Dr Viki Male, a reproductive immunologist at Imperial College London.

“With Omicron, a third dose boosts protection against hospitalisation up to around 90%,” she says.

Dr Lucy Pocock, an academic GP at the University of Bristol, agrees about the benefits. “It is true that vaccine effectiveness against symptomatic disease with Omicron is lower than with the Delta variant, however protection against hospitalisation is much greater after a booster dose, so it’s really important people take them up when they are offered.”

I’m concerned about the side-effects of the vaccine. Is the booster safe?
Yes, the booster has been approved for use by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). “In the UK, most people are offered an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna) as a booster,” says Pocock. “Millions of people worldwide have now received doses of these vaccines with the risk of serious side-effects being very low. Symptoms people have experienced – such as short-term pain and swelling at the injection site, fatigue or a headache – are usually mild and only last for a couple of days.”

If, on the other hand, you test positive for Covid-19, you may need to take significant time off work to isolate and recover from the illness.

I had my second dose of the vaccine not long ago. When can I get a booster vaccine?
You can get a Covid-19 booster vaccine three months after your second dose. “If you weren’t able to get your booster dose because you had Covid-19, remember to book your booster jab 28 days after you no longer have the virus too,” says Okorocha.

I am immunosuppressed and more vulnerable to infection. What should I do?
In certain circumstances – for example, for people who are immunosuppressed – it’s even more important you are protected against the virus. In which case, you may be eligible to receive a booster vaccination sooner. If you haven’t had yours, go to the NHS.uk website to book an appointment or to find your local walk-in vaccination centre.

I’ve already had two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, am I not protected enough?
Unfortunately not. Taking up a booster will strengthen protection against serious illness from Covid-19 and give you the best possible defence for you, your family and anybody you come into contact with.

I’m pregnant and I’m concerned about the efficacy of the vaccine. Why should I get it?
If you’re pregnant, it’s even more important you take up the booster as soon as you can. Research shows that pregnant and recently pregnant women with Covid-19 are more likely to be admitted to an intensive care unit than non-pregnant women.

Data from the UK Obstetric Surveillance System also indicates that 96% of pregnant women admitted to hospital with Covid-19 symptoms between May and October 2021 were unvaccinated, and a third of these required respiratory support.

About one in five pregnant women hospitalised with the virus need to deliver babies preterm, and one in five of their babies need care in the neonatal unit. “Along with a higher risk of preterm birth for women with symptomatic Covid-19, UK studies have also suggested a higher rate of stillbirth in infected women,” says Pocock.

But does research indicate that it’s definitely safe if I’m pregnant?
Yes, it does. “Safety trials of the booster have shown that, in the general population, the booster doesn’t have any side effects that we don’t see with doses one and two,” says Male.

Safety studies looking at more than 100,000 people who received doses one and two during pregnancy have shown that there’s no increased risk of pregnancy complications with the vaccines. Putting those two together, we have every reason to believe that, just like doses one and two, boosters are completely safe during pregnancy.”

Pocock agrees, saying: “The Covid-19 vaccines are safe for pregnant women and have no impact on fertility, either.”

I don’t have time to get a booster jab, is it really that important?
The Covid-19 vaccine is quick, simple and free. It has never been easier to get jabbed – you can get it near your home or work, and at a time that’s convenient (including the weekend or evenings). Either book online or visit a walk-in centre – and encourage friends and family who haven’t had theirs to book in, too. “It can be difficult to make time in a busy schedule for the booster,” says Pocock. “But having symptomatic Covid-19, or even long Covid, is likely to be much more disruptive to your life. Appointments are on offer on weekends and evenings, and are quick and easy. Think of it as an investment in your health and future productivity.”

Get your booster now by visiting nhs.uk/covidvaccination. If you are in Scotland, visit nhsinform.scot/covid-19-vaccine, for Wales, visit gov.wales/get-your-covid-19-vaccination and for Northern Ireland, visit covid-19.hscni.net/get-vaccinated.

This advertiser content was paid for by the UK government. All together (“Get boosted now”) is a government-backed initiative tasked with informing the UK about the Covid-19 pandemic. For more information, visit gov.uk/coronavirus

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