Covid-19 vaccines: How many are there, how effective are they and who will get the Covid vaccine first in the UK?

Definitive answers to your questions about the new Covid-19 vaccines.

Covid-19 vaccines
(Image credit: Photo by Vincent Kalut / Photonews via Getty Images)

Covid-19 vaccines in advanced stages of testing and trials have been returning good results and proving very effective in stopping coronavirus, spreading hope worldwide that an end to the pandemic could be in sight. 

The UK became the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for use this month, closely followed by Canada.

The coronavirus vaccine has been approved for use in the UK by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority (MHRA) and the Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisation (JCVI).

There is hope that now the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines has begun, a slow return to a more 'normal' way of living could be possible for millions. There is also hope looking to next year that the vaccines could mean less frequent needs for other safety measures such as social distancing and face masks

As well as the Pfizer Covid vaccine, there are many potential vaccines being developed around the world right now, with different countries having bought varying quantities of the vaccines for their nations. 

Here's what you need to know about how many Covid-19 vaccines the UK has bought, how effective they are, who will get the Covid vaccine first in the UK, whether it will be mandatory and more:

How many Covid-19 vaccines are there?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) there were 48 Covid-19 vaccines currently in development worldwide as of November 2020.

Of these 48 Covid-19 vaccines, there are 13 in large (phase 3) clinical trials – this is the final stage of trials that a vaccine must go through before it is ready to be approved for use by independent regulatory reviews and can be signed-off by the Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety.

The 13 Covid-19 vaccines in advance stages of testing (in trials involving thousands of humans) at the moment are:

  • Moderna vaccine
  • Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine
  • University of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine
  • Sinovac
  • Wuhan Institute of Biological Products/Sinopharm
  • Beijing Institute of Biological Products/Sinopharm
  • Bharat Biotech
  • CanSino Biological Inc./Beijing Institute of Biotechnology
  • Gamaleya Research Institute (Sputnik vaccine)
  • Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies vaccine
  • Novavax
  • Johnson & Johnson vaccine
  • Medicago/GSK vaccine

One of the Covid-19 vaccines developed in 2020

(Image credit: Photo by JOEL SAGET/AFP via Getty Images)

How many Covid-19 vaccines has the UK bought and how effective are they?

The British government currently have agreements with seven different vaccine developers and have bought 355 million vaccine doses so far from these developers for use in the UK.

The government say they have 'developed a diverse portfolio of vaccines' for the country that will give, 'the UK the best possible chance of protecting the public from coronavirus as soon as possible.'

The Covid vaccines the UK have bought are:

  • 100 million doses of University of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine – 90% effective so far at stopping people developing Covid-19 symptoms
  • 40 million doses of BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine - 95% effective so far at stopping people developing Covid-19 symptoms
  • 5 million doses of Moderna vaccine – 95% effective so far at stopping people developing Covid-19 symptoms
  • 60 million doses of Novavax vaccine – awaiting results
  • 30 million doses of Janssen vaccine – awaiting results
  • 60 million doses of Valneva vaccine – awaiting results
  • 60 million doses of GSK/Sanofi Pasteur vaccine – awaiting results

The first Covid-19 vaccines to be delivered to the UK will be the Pfizer/BioNTech and the Oxford University/AstraZenece vaccines. 

As the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has already received regulatory approval, it is the first vaccine to be available in the world before the end of 2020. People in the UK have already begun receiving the jab.

Before any further Covid-19 vaccines can be distributed for use in the UK, they must also be approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

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What are the side effects of the Covid 19 vaccines?

As with any vaccine, there is a possibility that people may experience side effects when they have the Covid-19 vaccines. 

The NHS explain that common Covid-19 vaccine side effects include:

  • soreness, redness and swelling at the site of the vaccination
  • tiredness
  • aching muscles
  • high temperature

They also advise: "These [side effects] may last for a few days and usually get better by themselves."

On potential side effects and the safety of new Covid-19 vaccines, WHO say: "There are many strict protections in place to help ensure that COVID-19 vaccines will be safe. Like all vaccines, COVID-19 vaccines should go through a rigorous, multi-stage testing process, including large (phase III) trials that involve tens of thousands of people. These trials, which include people at high risk for COVID-19, are specifically designed to identify any common side effects or other safety concerns."

So far, thousands of people have been given the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine and very few have suffered side effects or an allergic reaction. 

The government are advising that if you have previously, "had a serious allergic reaction to a previous vaccine, medicine or food," you should, "talk to your doctor, pharmacist or nurse before you are given the vaccine."

Who will get the Covid vaccine first in the UK? The coronavirus vaccine priority list

As age is one of the biggest risk-factors when it comes to being severely affected – and in worse-case scenarios hospitalised – with coronavirus, it is age that determines who gets the Covid vaccine first in the UK.

As such, care home residents and staff are currently at the top of the government's coronavirus priority list, followed by frontline health workers such as NHS and hospital staff.

After that, the priority list will then be broken down by age. So those who are over-80 will get the Covid vaccine first, then over 70, over 60 and so on.

As children appear to be the least likely to be affected by coronavirus, rarely showing extreme symptoms and often being asymptomatic, they would be the last to be offered the Covid-19 vaccines.

The government have so far laid out their coronavirus vaccine priority list as follows:

  1. older adults’ resident in a care home and care home workers
  2. all those 80 years of age and over and health and social care workers
  3. all those 75 years of age and over
  4. all those 70 years of age and over
  5. all those 65 years of age and over
  6. high-risk adults under 65 years of age
  7. moderate-risk adults under 65 years of age
  8. all those 60 years of age and over
  9. all those 55 years of age and over
  10. all those 50 years of age and over
  11. rest of the population (priority to be determined)

Doctor examining patient in wheelchair

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The UK government also state: "The prioritisation could change substantially if the first available vaccines were not considered suitable for, or effective in, older adults."

Will the coronavirus vaccine be mandatory?

No. The government is not proposing to make the Covid-19 vaccine mandatory.

To clear up false claims that have been circulating on social media, Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed earlier this month that the vaccine would not be compulsory. 

He said in an interview: "We're not proposing to make this compulsory, not least because the vast majority of people are going to want to have it."

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When will the Covid vaccine be approved?

The Covid vaccine developed by Pfizer has already been approved for use within the UK.

Grandmother Margaret Keenan, from Coventry in England, was the first person in the world to be given the Pfizer Covid-19 jab on December 8th 2020.

Margaret said: “I feel so privileged to be the first person vaccinated against COVID-19, it’s the best early birthday present I could wish for because it means I can finally look forward to spending time with my family and friends in the New Year after being on my own for most of the year.”

Before any more Covid vaccines developed by other companies can be distributed for mass-use in the UK, they must be proven to be both safe and effective - as well as be cleared for use by national regulators. Part of this process also involves the Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety.

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An official statement by Secretary of State for Business Alok Sharma and Health Secretary Matt Hancock reads:

"An enormous amount of planning and preparation has taken place across government to be able to quickly roll out the vaccine, including ensuring we have adequate provision, transport, PPE and logistical expertise to do so. We are also working at pace to prepare for the delivery of the COVID-19 vaccination programme as quickly as possible."

Rachael Martin
Digital Editor - Woman & Home

An internationally published digital journalist and editor, Rachael has worked as a writer and editor for both news and lifestyle websites in the UK and abroad including Metro UK, Homes & Gardens, Ideal Home,, and body+soul. 


Rachael's published work covers a broad spectrum of topics and she has written about everything from the future of sustainable travel, to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the world we live in, to the psychology of colour.