The different Covid vaccines explained - and why you can't choose which one you receive

The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine recently became the second to be approved for use in the UK, with first doses already administered.

The UK is now vaccinating the population with three different coronavirus vaccines: the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, and the Moderna vaccine.

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The Moderna vaccine was the most recent to be approved for use in the UK.

So with more than one vaccine available, can people choose which one they receive?

What’s the difference between the vaccines?

All the UK-approved vaccines offer protection against coronavirus, but they do so in slightly different ways.

The Oxford researchers adapted existing technology to create the AstraZeneca vaccine.

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It works by smuggling the coronavirus gene into human cells through a harmless virus, allowing those human cells to create the “spike protein”, a key biological characteristic of COVID-19.

The body responds to this by building up an immune response. This means that if the recipient later catches coronavirus, they already have antibodies and T-cells to fight it.

The Pfizer jab and the Moderna jab, meanwhile, use a technology known as mRNA to protect against coronavirus.

This jab introduces a messenger sequence into the body which contains genetic instructions to cells, allowing them to produce antigens to coronavirus, thus generating an immune response in the body.

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All three jabs require two doses, with some efficacy after the first dose.

How do the vaccines compare in terms off efficacy?

Final data from the Pfizer vaccine suggested that it offers 95 per cent protection against coronavirus after both doses.

The Oxford trial showed a 62 per cent effectiveness, though some data showed that when people were given a half dose followed by a full dose, effectiveness hit 90 per cent.

This data was not clear enough, however, to approve the half-dose, full-dose method, and the UK’s medicines regulator concluded that delaying the second dose by three months brought effectiveness to 80 per cent.

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The Oxford vaccine is much easier to store and distribute as it can be kept at a normal temperature, while the Pfizer jab must be kept at -70C.

The Moderna vaccine was shown to have 94 per cent efficacy against coronavirus in final trials, and an additional 10 million doses have been ordered by the UK.

Can I choose which vaccine to receive?

As vaccines are being delivered in a phased approach to ensure the most at-risk populations receive them first, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to choose which you receive.

The jab you get will simply be whatever is available at your GP or vaccination centre.

When will I be vaccinated?

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When you receive the vaccine depends on your age and whether you fall into any risk groups.

Currently, the government is rolling out the vaccine to top priority groups, with the aim of having the top four priority groups vaccinated by mid-February.

The top four priority groups are as follows:

  • Residents in a care home for older adults and their carers
  • Frontline health and social care workers, and all those 80 years of age and over
  • People aged 75 and over
  • People aged 70 and over, and clinically extremely vulnerable people (the shielding group)

Even if you do fall into one of these risk categories, it is difficult to say exactly when you will receive your vaccine. If you are eligible, you will receive an invitation from the NHS or your GP.

Do I have to take the vaccine?

The vaccine is not compulsory, and you do not have to take it if it is offered to you.

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However, to beat the pandemic, is it important that as many people as possible are vaccinated.

Having a vaccine not only means you are much less likely to get ill or die from coronavirus, but it also protects others from illness.

The more people who are vaccinated, the less risk that the virus will mutate and make current vaccines redundant.