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COVID-19 vaccine – checklist before you get your jab

Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Dr Roger HendersonReviewed on 13.10.2023 | 4 minutes read
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The vaccine slot’s booked, you’re all set to go, but first, just run through our checklist to make sure you’re in the best position health-wise to get your jab.

I’ve recently been ill – what now?

If you have symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, a persistent cough or a change to your sense of taste or smell), you should delay having your COVID-19 vaccine. Do a Covid test as soon as possible and check the current isolation guidelines in your area so you know what you need to do.

Similarly, if you’ve had a positive test without getting symptoms, put your vaccine off – it’s advised to wait at least 28 days from a positive test result, before receiving your jab or booster.

It's also best to wait until you are fully recovered from any considerable non-COVID-19 illness, such as pneumonia or tonsillitis. There are two reasons for this – firstly to let your immune system concentrate on the virus it is trying to fight off, and not over-burdening it and secondly, you want to be in the best possible health for the vaccine, so that your immune system is stimulated to respond really well to it. You're asking your immune system army to fight two enemies at once if you have an infection and have the vaccine at the same time otherwise. Also, on a community level, you don’t want to infect others going for their vaccine or the vaccine staff themselves.

If you have post-COVID syndrome, sometimes called long COVID, you can safely go ahead with your vaccination and if you’re pregnant, it's safe to have the vaccine at any point in your pregnancy, and advised as COVID-19 carries a higher risk to you and your baby. You can also have it if you're breastfeeding.

I take certain medications – should I stop them?

Let’s start with immunosuppressant medication and treatments. The advice regarding these depends on what you’re taking and why, and it’s best to get your hospital specialist’s opinion on this. Some recommend holding off for two weeks before your vaccination, so seek out this opinion as early as possible, so you’re ready when you’re offered a vaccine slot.

If you’re taking anticoagulants (blood thinners) you shouldn’t stop these prior to getting your vaccine and most people that are stable on this treatment can go ahead with the vaccination. The only exceptions are if you’re on a high dose or have a high target range INR above 3. In these cases, it’s best to speak to your anticoagulation clinic, specialist doctor or doctor beforehand.

Don’t panic if you’re reading this on the morning of your vaccination and don’t know what to do as there are doctors on hand at every vaccination centre to advise you so continue all your other medications as usual.

I’ve recently had my flu vaccine – should I go ahead?

If you’ve just had your flu vaccine – or indeed any other vaccination, including tetanus or those for foreign travel – you may want to wait at least 7 days before having your COVID-19 jab. This is because you may feel you want your immune system to mount the best response it can to both vaccines, rather than spreading itself thinly and risking low immunity. However, we now know from recent studies that there is no difference in the immune response to either the COVID-19 or influenza vaccine when they were given together, or alone, suggesting that either combination should be equally effective at preventing disease. This means that you can have them both at the same time, and many healthcare professionals have chosen to do this.

Am I immune once I’ve had my vaccination?

It takes about two weeks to fully build your immune defences after your first shot of the vaccine. You can be vulnerable at this time, and you can have caught COVID-19 in the days leading up to your vaccine, too.

You top up this immunity to optimum levels once you’ve had your second dose – this is given 8 to 12 weeks after the first. If you've had both doses, you’ve significantly reduced your risk of getting COVID-19, and of being very unwell or dying from it. Further boosters then continue to boost your immunity against COVID-19.

No vaccine offers zero risk of infection so you can still catch COVID-19, but low risk relies on either low infection rates in the community (so you’ve less chance of bumping into the virus) or everyone getting the vaccine (similarly, so less people are catching it to spread around). So you should still be careful while virus rates are high and vaccines are yet to reach everyone, by following your local and government guidelines.

Fortunately, if you do catch it once you've been vaccinated, you’re likely to have much milder symptoms and much less chance of ending up in the hospital.

*Information correct on 09 February, 2023

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 13.10.2023
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