9. Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe?
The arrival of safe, effective COVID-19 vaccines is a major development in the coronavirus pandemic. Hundreds of millions of people have already had their COVID-19 vaccine.
No. The vaccine cannot give you COVID-19 infection1
If you are vaccinated, you can still catch COVID-19, but you are less likely to become seriously ill. Even if you are vaccinated, it is still important to protect yourself and those around you through physical distancing and hygiene measure like handwashing and face coverings.
Over 12 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been given worldwide, so we have very good information about their side effects. The most common side effects from COVID-19 vaccines are mild – a sore arm, feeling tired, having a headache or other aches and pains. Some people feel unwell for two or three days, and a few might have a fever. These symptoms are normal and are signs that the body is building immunity.2
A very small number of people might get serious side effects i.e. 10-20 people per million.3 For most people, this is much less than the risk of catching COVID-19.
For example, in Europe in April 2021, for every million people, in a 2 week period, there were almost 4000 newly-reported cases of COVID-19 and 73 deaths from COVID-19.4
Health specialists and scientists in each country constantly check how vaccines are working to make sure that the benefits of vaccination are far greater than the risk of serious side effects.
All vaccines, including COVID-19 vaccines go through clinical trials to make sure they are safe and effective. Vaccine trials involve scientists and medical experts. COVID-19 vaccines have been developed and licensed more quickly than most vaccines because of:
- Existing knowledge: initial development of vaccines against SARS (Severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) greatly reduced the time needed for vaccine discovery/preclinical work.5
- Multiple vaccines: Over 200 vaccines have been developed at the same time. Usually only a small number would be developed at once.6
- Overlapping trials: phase 1, 2 and 3 trials were overlapped, so that safety data could be gathered more quickly.5
- Advance manufacturing: large-scale production of vaccines began before the vaccines were formally approved.5
- Investment: governments, international bodies and philanthropic organisations have invested large amounts of money to support vaccine development.5
- Financial risk: pharmaceutical companies have taken higher financial risk than usual to develop vaccines more quickly (e.g. building manufacturing facilities in advance).4
Pregnant women have the same risk of getting COVID-19 as non-pregnant women, but they may be at an increased risk of becoming severely ill.
We are gathering a lot of evidence about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy. This suggests that the benefits of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine outweigh any known or potential risks of vaccination during pregnancy.7 You should seek advice from your doctor or midwife about which vaccine is most suitable for you if you are pregnant.
Additionally, pregnant women with COVID-19 might have an increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes, such as preterm birth. Having a COVID-19 vaccine has been shown to help prevent serious complications from the COVID-19 infection.8