Who is eligible for the Covid jab and is it compulsory for anyone?

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About 37 million people have now had booster Covid vaccine doses across the UK - more than 64% of those eligible.

The government is urging everyone who can, to come forward and receive the jab.

Is the Covid vaccine compulsory?

For most people in the UK, the Covid vaccine is not mandatory.

However, Health Secretary Sajid Javid has reconfirmed that the government wants all front-line NHS staff in England (with some exceptions) to be fully vaccinated by 1 April if they want to to keep their job.

Meanwhile a number of employers, including Morrisons, Next, Ikea, Ocado and Wessex Water have cut sick pay for unvaccinated workers who are forced to isolate after being exposed to Covid.

Employees will receive only the statutory-sick-pay (SSP) minimum (£96.35 per week), unless there are mitigating circumstances.

All staff who test positive for the virus will still receive full sick pay, regardless of their vaccination status.

Across the UK, Covid passports providing vaccination status or negative test results are required to enter some venues.

Many foreign countries are restricting entry to vaccinated travellers or imposing restrictions on those who are not.

When can I have a booster?

In England boosters are now available to all over-16s three months after their second dose - but appointments can be booked after two months. Some walk-in appointments are also available.

In Scotland boosters can be booked online.

In Wales people should wait to be invited, with older and higher-risk people being prioritised.

In Northern Ireland people aged 18 to 29 can go to walk-in hubs, and make booster appointments.

Why do I need a booster?

Early studies from UK researchers suggested a booster vaccine - on top of the first two jabs - provides 80-85% protection against Omicron (compared with 97% against Delta).

More antibodies are developed thanks to the booster, giving the body stronger defences against the virus.

It makes it harder for Omicron to infect the body, although current vaccines are still not a perfect match.

Pfizer has started clinical trials of a new Covid vaccine which targets the Omicron variant.

Moderna will soon begin trials of its own Omicron-specific jab, and AstraZeneca has also started working on a new version of its vaccine.

Which children are being vaccinated?

All children aged 12 and over are being offered two doses of the Pfizer jab. They can usually have a second dose 12 weeks after the first.

A low-dose version of the Pfizer vaccine has been approved for children aged five to 11 who have health conditions putting them at greater risk from catching Covid. Eligible children in this age group are now being invited for vaccination in Scotland

Primary school children who live with clinically vulnerable adults should also be offered a jab, government vaccine advisers said.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) also recommended that the normal booster dose should be offered to children aged 12-15 if they:

  • are in an at-risk group or live with someone who is immunosuppressed
  • have a severely weakened immune system - they should get four doses

It is not yet clear when children will get these doses.

They can make an appointment or attend a drop-in clinic, as can eligible children of the same age in Scotland.

Children who are not considered to be at high risk from Covid should wait 12 weeks after a positive Covid test before having the vaccine.

What vaccine will I get for my booster?

Your booster will be a single dose of either Pfizer or Moderna - regardless of which vaccine you received before.

If you have recently tested positive for Covid, you should wait four weeks from the date of the test before having your booster.

You shouldn't have the booster if you have a severe illness or high fever, but Pfizer and Moderna say a mild fever or a cold are not reasons to delay.

The vaccines do not infect you with Covid, and cannot cause positive results on a lateral flow or PCR test.

What if I haven't had my first or second vaccine?

You can still book your first or second jab. You need to wait eight weeks between the first and second.

In particular, the government wants unvaccinated pregnant women to come forward.

What about side effects?

They are part of the body's normal immune response to vaccines and tend to resolve within a day or two.

Media caption,
Why it is normal for some people to experience short-term side effects from Covid-19 vaccines

And a very small number of people have experienced a severe allergic reaction after the Pfizer vaccine.

You should discuss any existing serious allergies with your healthcare professional before being vaccinated.