Answers to some of the questions we are being asked most often through our Helpline. 

Getting a coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine

How can I get a vaccination appointment and where will it be?

You can now book an appointment through the national booking service.

If you’re unable to use the online service, you can call 119 free of charge, any time between 7am and 11pm, seven days a week.

The vaccine is being offered in a range of places, including some hospitals, GP surgeries – but not necessarily at your own GP surgery – pharmacies and local vaccination centres. Some of these may be in sports stadiums, local sports centres or community halls. The government has also opened some mass vaccination centres around the country, in sports stadiums and conference centres.

Some vaccination teams will visit people to offer the vaccine, for example in care homes or if you are housebound. This may take longer to arrange. 

Will the COVID-19 vaccine protect me from the coronavirus?

There are three vaccines currently in use in the UK. They all give a high level of protection against the virus. 

You need two doses of the vaccine. The first dose should give you good protection, but you need the second dose for it to be fully effective. When you’ve had the first dose, you’ll get an appointment for your second dose, up to twelve weeks later. It may take up to three to four weeks after the first dose for you to build up immunity. Watch the video How do vaccines protect you? on the NHS Vaccines website.

There is a chance you may still get the virus or spread it even after you’ve had the vaccine. You should continue to follow government guidance to protect yourself and others.

Scientists still don’t know how long immunity lasts and you might need to get vaccinated again in the future. You can find out more about the vaccine on the NHS website.

Is the vaccine safe?

All new potential vaccines must be approved as safe and effective by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency before they can be rolled out. 

So far, three COVID-19 vaccines have been approved for use and are being rolled out in the UK. They have been developed by Pfizer/BioNTech, Oxford/AstraZeneca and Moderna.

To find out more about the vaccines being developed, watch this video by the British Society for Immunology or visit the NHS vaccine facts website.

Are there any side effects?

Most side effects from the vaccine are mild. They shouldn’t last longer than a week. You may experience some of the following:

  • a sore or ‘heavy’ arm where you had the vaccination
  • feeling tired
  • a headache
  • flu-like symptoms such as feeling achy.

You can take paracetamol for any of these symptoms. If you’re worried or your symptoms get worse, call NHS 111. If you seek advice, mention that you’ve had the vaccination.

Serious allergic reactions to the vaccine are rare but can happen. If you’re concerned, speak to your GP or healthcare professional.

For more information about what to expect after your vaccination, visit the NHS vaccine facts website.

Will I get a booster jab later in the year?

The government has said that it is likely that some people will be offered a booster jab from September 2021 onwards, but a detailed plan for this has not been developed yet. To start with, the booster jab would be for people who are most vulnerable to COVID-19, including:

  • people over 70
  • people living in care homes
  • adults who are considered clinically extremely vulnerable
  • frontline health and social care staff.

It would then be offered to others, such as adults over 50 and people with an underlying health condition. The COVID-19 vaccine booster programme would take place alongside the annual flu vaccine programme. For more information, see the government press release.

Managing your physical and mental health

How do I get tested for coronavirus (COVID-19)?

There are two types of test.

If you have symptoms

You should ask for a free test as soon as possible if you have one or more of the following symptoms of COVID-19:

  • a high temperature
  • a new, continuous cough
  • a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste.

This is called a PCR test. You must self-isolate for 10 days immediately (people in the same household should also self-isolate for 10 days). For more information about when and for how long you should self-isolate, visit the NHS website.

If you can’t get to a test site, you can order a home test kit. If you know someone who needs a test but is unable to apply online, you can apply for them with their permission, or they can call 119 to book a test.

People in hospital and essential workers are being given priority for tests. Residents in care homes can also be tested, whether or not they have symptoms, and anyone moving in to a care home will be tested beforehand.

Testing is most effective if it happens within 3 days of you developing symptoms. You'll need to use a long cotton bud to take a swab of the inside of your nose and the back of your throat. If you need help, someone else can do this for you.

If you don’t have any symptoms

If you don’t have any symptoms, or you’re not eligible for a PCR test, you should have a free lateral flow test. You can find a local rapid testing site on the government website or order a test you can do at home.

You can get the results within 30 minutes. If you test positive, you’ll be asked to book a follow up PCR test to confirm the result. You must report a positive result to the NHS. You can find out more on the NHS website.

Test and trace

If you've tested positive for coronavirus, the NHS Test and Trace service will contact you to find out who you've been in close contact with recently, and where you have visited. The NHS will then contact anyone that you've been in close contact with, so that they can self-isolate for 10 days. You can find out more about how this works on the government's test and trace pageFrom 16 August, if you’ve had both of your vaccinations, you won’t need to self-isolate if you’ve been in close contact with someone with COVID-19. You will need to have a PCR test to make sure you don’t have COVID-19. If it is positive, you will then need to isolate.

There are different policies for testing in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. For those who are not online, tests can be booked by calling 119 in Wales. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, call 0300 303 2713 to book a test.

I'm in the clinically extremely vulnerable group - what is considered safe for me to do?

People in the clinically extremely vulnerable group should, as a minimum, follow the same government advice as everyone else to stay safe. However, it's for you to decide what you feel comfortable doing. For more information, read the government’s guidance for people who are clinically extremely vulnerable from COVID-19.

There are things you can do to reduce your risk of catching the virus. For example:

  • you may want to continue to maintain a social distance from others
  • you could meet people outside where possible
  • you could ask friends and family to take a COVID-19 test before they visit you.

There is some more general guidance for people in this group on the government guidance page

Can I visit my GP surgery if I am unwell?

If you are unwell during this time and need to get advice from your GP, you should still call your GP surgery or contact them via their website. They can arrange for you to have a phone consultation with your GP and then, if necessary, you may be asked to visit the surgery. To keep yourself and others safe, you should not visit the surgery unless you have been advised to. Visit the NHS website or watch the NHS video about How to access your GP practice for more information.

Will my scheduled NHS operation/appointment go ahead as planned?

The NHS are trying to get as many routine appointments and operations as possible happening again, but you might still be asked not to attend an appointment in person if there is a different way to provide the care you need, such as through a video call.

Unless you have been told not to, you should go to any planned appointments you have. Speak to your GP or your healthcare team if you are unsure. You should be told about any changes to your care or how appointments will take place in advance. For example, you should be told if you need to wear a mask, or if you'll need to be tested for coronavirus before a planned operation. 

See the page Using the NHS and other health services during coronavirus for more information. 

What happens if I need to stay in hospital during the pandemic?

Whether you go in to hospital unexpectedly, or for a planned operation, things will be a bit different during the COVID-19 pandemic.

You may not be able to have visitors while you are in hospital and there may be extra rules you need to follow while you are in hospital, such as having COVID-19 tests. What happens when you leave hospital (called hospital discharge) has also changed. This is to free up hospital beds more quickly.

This means that if you are medically fit but will need ongoing care when you leave hospital, your care will be arranged once you have returned home. Before the pandemic, this would have happened before you left the hospital.

Assessing your need for ongoing care

In hospital, you will only be assessed to see what (if any) short-term support you need to safely leave the hospital. The NHS should use emergency government funding to pay for any new or extra support you’ll get so that you can safely leave the hospital. This support can last for up to six weeks.

If you are likely to need support for longer than six weeks, a care needs assessment (or an NHS Continuing Healthcare assessment if this is right for you) should be arranged for you. This should happen before the six weeks of care paid for by the NHS ends. If this is delayed, you should not be asked to pay for any care until the right assessments are carried out.

When you leave hospital, it’s a good idea to confirm with your case manager how long you will be offered support for and when you can expect to have an assessment of your longer-term care needs. 

If you can’t return to your home

If you are unable to return to your own home and need to move in to a care home, you may not be able to move to the care home of your choice straightaway - you may need to stay in an alternative care home for a short while first, rather than staying longer in hospital. You will not be allowed to stay in hospital if you refuse the care you've been offered. 

Before you move in to a care home, supported housing or temporary accommodation, you must be tested for COVID-19. Your case manager should make sure that this happens. You will only be able to move into a care home if you've been tested within 48 hours before your admission and have the results of your test. If you test positive, you will need to move to a setting which meets the infection prevention control standards put in place by the Care Quality Commission. This would be for the usual 10 day isolation period, and may be somewhere different to the care home you are moving to. 

For more information see the government's guidance on hospital discharge and our factsheet on hospital stays.

I’m finding it hard to cope emotionally. How can I look after my mental health during the pandemic?

If you feel worried or anxious about the situation, you’re not alone and there are some steps you can take to help you manage. You might like to talk to friends and family to help you stay connected or call an organisation such as Samaritans or The Silverline for emotional support. You can also find online resources at Anxiety UK and practical support tools such as audio guides and mood self-assessments from the NHS

Spending time doing the things you enjoy, staying active, eating well and sticking to a daily routine can all help too. Different things work for different people, so take time to work out what works best for you. Mind have guidance for people about looking after their mental health and wellbeing whilst self-isolating.

You can get tips on how to improve your sleep, and other resources to improve your mental wellbeing from Every Mind Matters.

If you feel your mental health has seriously been affected, talk to your GP to find out what help is available.

Getting help at home

Should I still let carers into my home?

Yes – it’s important to keep receiving any essential help you get with washing, dressing and preparing meals, for example. Your care worker should have been given guidance about extra steps they must take to protect you, such as following hand hygiene guidance, and staying away if they show any symptoms of coronavirus. They should wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), such as aprons, gloves, fluid-repellent surgical masks and eye protection where necessary, in line with government guidance. This will also help to protect them if you are showing any signs of coronavirus. 

My carer can’t visit because they’re self-isolating – what should I do?

If your care is arranged through an agency, the agency should send a different care worker to support you. Call the agency if this hasn’t happened.

Councils have wide powers to assist residents with care needs once they are aware of their situation. They can respond very quickly where required. If your care was arranged through adult social services at your local council, you can call the council if there are any problems with your care.

If you use council-arranged direct payments to fund a personal assistant and they can’t visit, call the local council to tell them straight away. They have a duty to ensure your needs are met. This could involve putting an interim arrangement in place until your personal assistant is able to resume their caring role.    

If it’s a friend or relative who usually provides your care, and you’re not able to cope without their support, contact adult social services at your local council to ask for an urgent care needs assessment. You can find their details at gov.uk/apply-needs-assessment-social-services. Government guidance also advises that you contact your council to make a contingency plan, if you have concerns about your future care and support arrangements.

Should I let my cleaner/maintenance worker into my home?

Government guidance says that cleaners and other trades people can work in people's homes unless:

The government's safe working guidance sets out other steps you can take to stay safe when letting others in to your home.

If you need to self isolate

How can I get my food and prescriptions if I must self-isolate?

If you don’t have friends, family or neighbours who can support you to get shopping and other essentials, think about using online shopping and prescription delivery services where possible. Anyone making deliveries should leave them on the doorstep or outside. 

If you live in England, you can call 0808 196 3646 between 8am and 8pm to request support from an NHS Volunteer Responder. A friend or family member, your GP, community pharmacist, or any other health or local government official can also refer you. An NHS volunteer responder can help with things like prescription collection, shopping, lifts to appointments or even provide a friendly chat over the phone.

Many charities and local community groups are working hard to try and support people who are having to self-isolate. Contact your local council to find out about support in your area, or your local Age UK. You could also try the government's online service to help people to find the support they need.

If someone calls or visits you claiming to represent an organisation that wants to help you, ask for their name. Look up the organisation's telephone number yourself and then call the organisation directly to check that they are who they say they are. Do this before you agree to anything. It's a good idea to use a door chain when answering the door to people you don't know. Once you're happy to accept someone's help, agree in advance how you're going to pay. Never give your bank card or bank details out to anyone, and ask for receipts for everything, to avoid misunderstandings.

In Scotland, for details of where you can get additional support, visit Ready Scotland.

In Wales, you can contact Third Sector Wales to find out about support that is available in your area.

In Northern Ireland, visit CommunityNI for local voluntary help.

How should I pay someone back if they bought me food or other essentials?

If you are self-isolating and need to pay someone for food or other deliveries, but don’t have online banking or enough cash, you may want to pay them by bank transfer. Never give your bank card or bank details to anyone.

If you're not registered for telephone banking, call your bank and ask them to help you set it up. The MoneyHelper website offers guidance about making bank transfers.

You can also use a cheque to pay someone if they accept it. If you don’t have a cheque book, call your bank and they should issue one free of charge.

Many supermarkets, including Asda, Waitrose, M&S, Sainsbury's, Tesco and Morrisons allow you to order an e-gift card online or over the phone. Depending on the scheme, you will be sent a barcode or email that a friend, family member or volunteer doing your shopping in store can present at the checkout. Some schemes will send the gift card straight to the person doing the shopping.

You may also be able to use the Post Office Payout Now service to access cash without going outside. Contact your bank, credit union or building society first to see if they offer this service. If they do, you can send a unique reference code by text, email or post to a person that you trust. They can take the code to any Post Office branch where it will be scanned in return for cash (the amount is set by you).

However you pay someone, always ask for receipts to avoid misunderstandings.

How can I get access to cash if I can’t leave the house?

Your bank, credit union, or the Post Office may be offering a cash delivery service, or third-party cash withdrawals to people who are self-isolating.

Which? has more information about what the different banking providers are currently offering to their customers, or you can contact your provider directly for support.

What if I can’t pay my gas or electricity bills or top up my pre-paid meter, and have no one to help me?

If you can’t top up your pre-paid gas or electricity meters, or afford to pay an energy bill, contact your energy supplier straightaway. They should have a range of support in place. For example, some suppliers are posting cards loaded with emergency credit or adding discretionary credit directly to your meter. You can find out more on the Ofgem website.

If you have a smart pre-payment meter, you should be able to top-up using an app, online or by phone. Your credit will be sent automatically to your meter.

If you’re unable to deal with your supplier on your own or you can’t get through to them, call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline (0808 223 1133) and ask to be referred to their Extra Help Unit.

Supporting others

I am caring for someone and need a break. What can I do about this?

The respite (alternative) care services which are usually available for the person you care for may not be able to support you at this time. If you need a break from caring and don’t have any friends or family who are able to give immediate help in providing care, you can contact your local council to ask for some support. If friends or relatives step in to provide care on your behalf, it is important that they follow the guidelines set out in the government guidance for people who provide unpaid care to family or friends

It is a good idea at this time to put in place (or review) an emergency plan with the person you care for, so that they would continue to get appropriate care and support if you were not able to provide care for them. You can find more information in the government guidance.

For emotional or practical support as a carer, you can also contact Carers UK on 0808 808 7777 or by emailing advice@carersuk.org.

How can I support my older relative if they are self-isolating?

Think about delivering food and other essentials, such as prescriptions. Only drop off essentials if you are well yourself, and ensure you follow good hygiene practices, as explained on the NHS website. Leave supplies on the doorstep instead of going inside.

You could also help them in other ways, such as sending books, magazines or films. If they’re online, you could play games such as chess or Scrabble with them or introduce them to streaming services. Call them regularly. Encourage them to stay active at home and keep in touch with friends who are also self-isolating and might need some support.

How can I support older people in my community who are self-isolating?

Visit our Advice for volunteers page for ideas, and things to think about to keep yourself and the local community safe.

Can I visit someone in a care home or hospital?

Visiting someone in hospital

Hospitals can set their own visiting rules, to limit the risk of infection and keep everyone safe. In most circumstances, only one family member or someone close to the patient will be allowed to visit. See the guidance on visiting inpatient settings from NHS England for more information.

Contact the hospital or visit their website to find out about their latest visiting arrangements. If you do visit someone in hospital, you will need to wear a face mask and must follow any guidance you are given by the hospital about the number of visitors allowed, and social distancing whilst visiting someone, for example. You should not visit someone in hospital if you are experiencing symptoms of coronavirus or if you’ve been told you need to self-isolate.

Visiting someone in a care home

There are no longer any limits on the number of people who can visit someone in a care home. However, care homes will still need to have measures in place to keep their residents and staff safe from COVID-19. This may mean limiting the number and length of visits, for example. Visitors will need to take a COVID-19 test on the day of their visit. See the government's summary of the latest guidance for care home visitors.

Check with the care home what arrangements they have put in place to allow safe visiting. You can also speak to the care home or hospital to find out if they have set up any other arrangements to help you keep in touch, such as arranging video calls.

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COVID-19