/ Health

Do you know how you’ll be contacted about the vaccine?

More and more people are being invited to get their COVID-19 jabs, but are you clear on how you’ll be told it’s your turn? Here’s what you should look out for.

We’ve covered concerning reports of vaccine scams recently, which show it’s vital that you’re able to tell if your invitation is genuine.

Most people will be contacted by a local NHS service, while some frontline workers, including hospital staff and carers, might get their invite through their employers.

Getting the COVID-19 vaccine: what to expect

The NHS said it would send patients invitations by post, but we’ve heard from many of you that you’ve also received calls, texts and emails instead, and some people have been concerned about whether they’re genuine.

89-year-old Lily in West Sussex told us that different members of her family, some living in the same area, have all received different forms of communication.

She received a phone call inviting her for the first jab, while her 70-year-old daughter received a text message:

You can tell that this is a genuine invitation as it places the onus of communication on your usual method of contact with your local GP. There are no links to dubious websites requesting sensitive information, simply the instruction to contact your local surgery as you would normally do.

Meanwhile, her grandson has been told to expect a letter in the post confirming his appointment.

How you’ll find out when it’s your turn

Contact regarding the vaccine will depend on where in the UK you live.

NHS England confirmed that it’s using various ways to contact patients in England about their vaccines, including letters, phone calls, emails, texts, and outpatient appointments. This is to speed up the vaccination drive.

It said patients may be contacted by their GP surgery, local NHS Trust or a local pharmacy. If you’re a frontline key worker, you might even receive your invite through your employer.

Read more about vaccine invites in England here.

In Wales, patients can expect the same methods of communication as people in England.

NHS Scotland has said that people aged 70-79 can expect to receive letters in several health boards.

You can read about the latest on vaccine invitations in Scotland here.

In Northern Ireland, patients will be contacted by phone or by a branded NHS letter. Again, frontline workers might hear about their jabs through their employers.

How to spot and avoid vaccine scams

Remember, COVID-19 vaccinations are free, with no exceptions.

The biggest telltale sign of a scam is if you’re being asked to pay for a vaccine, or hand over payment details or ID documents. 

The NHS is offering vaccines for free to all UK residents, with no exceptions. Vaccines are not currently available privately. 

Anyone asking you for payment for any coronavirus-related NHS service should be treated with suspicion. If they’re calling you, refuse their offer and put the phone down.

Three things to remember to stay safe from NHS vaccine scams:

💉 The NHS will never ask you for payment, or for your payment details

💉 Nobody from the NHS will ever turn up at your door unexpectedly to give you a vaccine

💉 You’ll never be asked to send copies or originals of any ID documents in advance of your vaccination appointment. For example, passport, driving licence, bank statements or National Insurance Number

Ignore emails, calls and messages that seem suspicious, and report them. 

If you think you might have given away sensitive information or lost money to a scam, report it to Action Fraud. You can report using its online form or by calling 0300 123 2040. 

Fake government or NHS emails can be forwarded to the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) which is working with the police to tackle online fraud. You can forward suspicious emails to report@phishing.gov.uk, and text messages to 7726.

Have you been contacted about the vaccine yet? And have you received any suspicious communication?

How have you been contacted about the vaccine?
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Valerie Young says:
4 February 2021

I was contacted by my Surgery and an appointment made for the following week. In my Hampshire town the three surgeries have combined and the vaccinations carried out in a our very suitable hall, with several entrances, plenty of space and extra rooms to sit for fifteen minutes afterwards. Lots of volunteers help to make the process go very smoothly.
A few days later I received my letter from the NHS inviting me to go on-line and book an appointment at one of the local ‘hubs’. The letter clearly states that I was in the age group to now receive the vaccine but could choose to wait until contacted by my GP. Some members of my family have have taken this option as they have not yet received an invitation from their Doctor.

My GP surgery’s website has a note to say that patients will be contacted when it is their turn for vaccination and a request not to contact the surgery.

From what I have been told by friends, some people have received letters, phone calls or texts. To avoid scams, I would prefer patients to be asked to log in to Patient Access or another of the services used by GP surgeries for booking appointments, request repeat prescriptions, etc. Obviously that would only be suitable for those who are already registered for one of these services.

The “vote” above only allows me to give one way I have been contacted. I was contacted both by NHS letter and, the following day, by text message from my surgery.

I was going to use the NHS link but my surgery message told me the vaccination centre that was very local so I went that route. Very easy to choose a day and time, all confirmed and the jab was all very efficiently organised.

I do not normally click links but, as I am enrolled in my surgery messaging system and there was nothing to indicate it was other than genuine, I did this time.

I, too, have been contacted initially by letter – then text – and yesterday by phone! I’m sure they’re all genuine, though. The letter invited me to book online (or if unable to, to ring 119). I got into the system (which requires my NHS number and DoB) – but the nearest centre that came up was about 15 miles away – when I know there is one less than 500m from where I live. So I left it since the NHS website said ‘more centres would be opening soon’. I tried 2 days later, by which time the nearest was 25 miles away. Two days after that I received a text with a strange link incorporating a load of hieroglyphics, but it also incorporated the domain ‘nhs.uk’ – so I followed it and have now booked with my local centre for early next week. A confirmation text was sent almost immediately. The hieroglyphics were almost certainly a unique code pertaining to me. Then yesterday I received a phone call inviting me for a jab at the same centre on the following day! I told the telephonist I had already booked by text – she said this is happening all the time.

There is clearly a lot of Left Hand not consulting with Right Hand, and hence a waste of resources.

Others have quite rightly said not to click on links: I might have given the impression I did so with the text. No, I cut and pasted it into my browser. I might add: the text addressed me by name (as did the confirmation text). The link begins: ‘accurx.thirdparty.nhs.uk/’ and is followed by the hieroglyphics. According to Wikipaedia, “AccuRx is a British software company working in the health sector”.

Thanks very much for this info. I, too, got a text with the link to accurx.thirdparty.nhs.uk. My local practice was given at the end of the text, but I was still wary as I’m only 67yo and wasn’t expecting to be contacted so soon, so I went online to see if there was anything about that link and scams. Your post reassured me, so I clicked on the link, typed in my d.o.b. (the only info I was asked to provide), and I now have an appointment for this Friday afternoon, at a venue only 20-25 mins’ walk away from my home. I received a confirmation text almost instantaneously. Thanks again!

Phil says:
4 February 2021

Got a text from the local surgery last Thursday with a link to the NHS website where I was able to book a convenient appointment for Monday at a local health centre. Confirmation by text from the local surgery.

If only the actual process at the health centre had run as smooth (had to wait 40 minutes in the cold).

My letter arrived this morning. It gave me a time and place to attend. I have to bring a single piece of ID with me.

Using the NHS vaccination booking site I have been able to get an appointment for next week at a convenient place in Norwich close to home and at a convenient time. I was very impressed with the process, the structure of the various dialogues to arrive at the choices, and with the range of date and time slots at my chosen location. The plain English text was very easy to read and understand. If only commercial websites were so clear and helpful.

I was contacted by letter and arranged a first dose at a pharmacy-led centre about 5 miles from home; then, a few days later, received a text from my GP practice. The GP practice was informed with afew days delay that I had had my first vaccination!

David Harris says:
5 February 2021

One other piece of advice you should mention, is not to click on any links contained in emails, even if they appear to be genuine. This proved to be a problem with one of my friends and trading standards are now on the case.

David – Thank you for restating that recommendation. It is given many times in Which? Conversations but internet users tend to look for the fastest route to an appealing suggestion rather than act cautiously. Scammers in particular worry people about something and then provide a dodgy link that might appear genuine but takes the user to a bad place.

It would be good if reputable organisations desisted from including links in their e-mails since that only confirms the general acceptability of following links to websites.

The word “invite” is a verb. The word you are looking for is “invitation”

Cheers – Mark

Not according to the OED:

noun /ˈɪnvʌɪt/ ♫ informal an invitation: no one turns down an invite to one of Mickey’s parties.” 16th C from French.

Cheers – Ian

Invite has been in use as a colloquial form of invitation since at least the mid-seventeenth century. There’s nothing wrong with it in the right place, but in formal contexts such as a printed card invitation would be the word to use. Invitation is the more accepted noun to use. Using invite as a noun is informal.”.
I would regard being asked to make an appointment for a vaccination as a formal request so, I would suggest, “invitation” would be correct in this context – although at my vaccination centre there was a bit of a jolly atmosphere so under different circumstances and with some surgical spirit………..

Hmmm, well in the article above, para 1 uses ‘invitation’, para 2 uses ‘invite’ and para 3 uses ‘invitation(s)’. Certainly an eclectic mix.

I’m afraid to a relic like me, ‘invite’ sounds a little like using ‘uni’ for ‘university’ (sigh).

Cheers – Mark

We both had our invites by letter (70+ group) but when I went on-line the booking system did not seem to recognise the centre used by our GP practice who appear to be part of a group of GP surgeries and being used by elderly neighbours who have been directed there. It wanted us to go to a new hub near Chelmsford where we will be going today (Friday 5th) for our first jab. It will be slightly more convenient with better parking and a bit closer to home. We have not had repeat invitations.

Jean Boyd says:
5 February 2021

My husband and I received letters on Wednesday informing us to book via NHS website, which we duly did – although only appointments available were at sites 10 and 12 miles away respectively but just pleased to be getting a vaccination! However, we have both received texts this morning from our GP surgery advising us vaccinations available now at a new more local site and advising us to book. Then received another in quick succession informing us to book via NHS website or call the surgery. Another case of the Left Hand/Right Hand scenario!

…and what is the cost of producing and sending these letters? Each ‘letter’ comes in an A4 size envelope and is much more than just an invite/invitation. My 89 year old mother got her letter 4 days AFTER booking her first appointment via a phone call. The surgeries are doing a good job of booking people in by phone and text. Why not just send letters as a ‘mop-up’ exercise to only those who have fallen through the cracks? Multiple communications are just confusing people and wasting money.

An A4 communication costs about £1. In the overall scale of things, £1 “wasted” on an unnecessary communication to try and ensure the population is vaccinated against this plague is nothing.

To reassure you, most of that money goes to Royal Mail in postage. Most of that money is paid out in wages instead of furlough. Much of that is tax and NI, which the government immediately recovers. What is left is spent on goods and services, much of which carries VAT and possibly additional duties. Profit that Royal Mail makes is paid out in dividends. Again this is taxed by HMRC.

As the money moves through the ecconomy, nearly all of it is recovered in taxes. Very little of that initial £1 is left after 3-4 transactions. What else you might have done with it is another matter. The good thing about being in government, is the magic money tree does exist and it always grows a new crop. Just don’t tell the public that’s how it works.

Normally I would agree but we are in the midst of a pandemic that has cost billions already. This is surely a case where it’s better to get multiple contacts than miss out. It’s worth remembering that disruption is happening across the country and many areas are weeks behind with their post. They have said they will try to prioritise vaccine letters but it may or may not work.

I have now seen the letter that arrived today, addressed to a member of our household who had already had their vaccinaction yesterday booked via an online text message.

It includes a preprinted sheet written in various non-Roman alphabets (Hindi, etc.,), presumably explaining the same information for those who cannot read English. Encouraging ethnic minorities – who seem to be at particular risk from Covid-19 – to have the vaccine, should not be portrayed as wasting money.

Matthew Borden says:
5 February 2021

In Cardiff, and just short of my eightieth when vaccination began, I was called by a nurse at my surgery’s sister branch to offer post-Covid assistance. A jolly conversation ensued in which I explained that I am on the year-long ONS/Oxford data collection programme and have been swab tested some eight or nine times, all of which have been negative. I understood that both her surgery and my own were administering vaccinations. The very next day I received a call from my own surgery inviting me to attend just three days later. On the day, the arrangements were excellent and I was in and out in about five minutes, albeit being advised to wait in the car for fifteen minutes before driving in case of any reaction. In view of the slow start in Wales I am delighted that my expectation of waiting until Easter was unfounded. My thanks to medical staff and volunteers everywhere.

I got a letter giving me a website to book an appointment which I did immediately. Got an appointment at my local mass centre (5 min walk from home) but had to wait 2 weeks. The next day I got a text from my GP saying I could have an appointment in 2 days time so I booked that & cancelled the first one. The silly thing is that both appointments are in the same place!
I have been told by others that I did not need to wait for the letter & providing I knew the website to go to I could book an appointment. I now know of several people who are not in the group currently being vaccinated (over 70s) who have done this & got an appointment. After finding the website the only information you have to input is your name, date of birth & NHS number. There is no code or anything in the letter. It seems to me that this system is a bit chaotic as it seems to be open to “abuse” by younger people trying to jump the queue and also I wonder how many people in my situation who end up with 2 appointments forget to cancel one of them.

LEM is worried about the possibility of the under-seventies taking their vaccinations prematurely and misusing the NHS website because it doesn’t require much in the way of log-in information. He then writes that the only information you have to input is your name, date of birth & NHS number. But doesn’t that give them all they need to filter out any undeserving applicants? They can check the age and medical history and if the situation was so critical that numbers had to be limited in one area the priority patients could be allocated first.

John. You’re right. I’ve just tested this. I entered my NHS number and date of birth and, as I expected, it told me that I’m not eligible. It didn’t give a reason, but I assume that the system immediately recognised that my date of birth is too young and my NHS number hasn’t been flagged as being of a vulnerable person.

The system should also check that the dob and NHS number match the name to avoid mistakes. Hopefully there is an efficient ID check to prevent people obtaining a booking by impersonating an older person.

Wavechange, it didn’t ask for my name, only my NHS number and date of birth.

Thanks NFH. I had not looked, knowing that I would be turned down. One day our time will come.

Since the name, address, and NHS number are printed on the call-up letter, the critical authenticating factor is the date of birth, so even if the letter falls into the wrong hands a false d.o.b. would not correspond with the data behind the NHS number.

I think the speed with which the NHS has produced a very effective algorithmic-based computer programme for vaccination applications with such clear steps and fast internal cross-referencing is highly commendable. It is easy to use, accessible, and asks all the right questions to enable the best appointment offers to be made having regard to the individual’s circumstances. Some impressive data-processing power lies behind it.

I don’t think LEM need be concerned about duplicate appointments judging by my experience. If a few appointments were not fulfilled, either by duplication or some just failing to attend, the short queue would be a buffer that would keep the staff going and they might just finish 10 minutes earlier.

Ray Robinson says:
5 February 2021

I am very impressed by the streamlined service for booking an appointment, and all of the lovely people who guided me from the car park entrance to the numbered seat in the surgery (I am not disabled) and even gave me a new mask (I was wearing one).

I received a txt message from my surgery on Friday 3.45pm, clicked on the book.nhs.me link, verified my dob, then appointments appeared for Monday onwards. I selected a time and confirmed the booking. Received a confirmation txt message with the address of the clinic and a link to cancel or reschedule. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get transport so rescheduled for Tuesday. On the Monday, I received a reminder by txt

I waited 1 minute in my numbered seat and was in the surgery for a couple of minutes. Confirmed my address, asked about allergies, then roll your sleeve up. I hate needles with a passion, but didn’t notice it while the doctor was talking. Given a Fact Sheet about possible after effects then done.

Guided out of the building and back to the car park. Enjoyed it so much I want to do it again. I will in 8 weeks or so

Thank You all xx
I hear there are a lot of ‘no shows’ are these people insane!?

andrew says:
5 February 2021

Tuesday evening a text arrived, contacted surgery and booked for Saturday and my NHS letter arrived in the post yesterday. So well done NHS.

Colin says:
5 February 2021

There have been hiccups here in Wales. My wife received a letter with an appointment to attend a vaccination centre a 30 mile journey away. The letter was in Welsh [first] and English but all mixed up. Not the usual one letter in Welsh and one in English. We knew our local surgery [3.5 miles away] would be doing vaccs so, naturally would prefer to go there. My wife phoned the number given and had a problem the answer was only in Welsh! I tried and understanding a very small amount of Welsh realised I had to press 1 for Cymraeg[Welsh] and 2 for Saesnaeg [English] and so pressed two. It took three calls and long waits to get a reply. When I had a letter [same mixed text] the phone lines were better organised and able to leave a message. Our GP in the meantime phoned and we both have had our vaccs earlier than at the vacc centre and together and with far less hassle etc. especially as we would have had to make two journeys of 60 mile round trip- and this when we are expected by Wales regs to try and keep less than 5 miles. 10 out of 10 to our GP. 1 out of 10 to the local health board [Aneurin Bevan].

Reply comment misplaced.

My text message starts as follows:

“Dear [name],
You have been invited to book your COVID-19 vaccinations. You have been invited to book your COVID-19 vaccinations.” [sic]

Apart from this mistake, the text and the link to the booking site is genuine.

That must be because you need two doses.

Peter Bowron says:
6 February 2021

Received a letter from NHS stating that I was now eligible for the vaccine and providing
an email contact. This led to a list of vaccination centres ranging from 10 miles to 200 miles distant.
At the same time, friends were being offered vaccinations in their own town which made me
annoyed. Eventually, my GP’s surgery telephoned and said that I was scheduled at a local centre.
Why all the wasted bureaucracy?

Lynda says:
8 February 2021

I had my letter last Tuesday, but I don’t drive so really wanted my husband to be vaccinated at the same time to save an additional journey. Tried ringing the number on the letter, early evening (recommended as they say they’re very busy during the day) but the nearest option was 50 miles away. His letter arrived Friday: since then, we have been logging on as soon as we get up each morning to try and get our appointments. On two occasions, the nearest is 18 (more like 25, they do say distances are as the crow flies) and today was the first time it’s given us an option in North Yorkshire, where we actually live – York, 50 miles away. Our GP-led centre is 10 miles away: there’s also a centre in Northallerton (15 miles) and there must be one in Harrogate (40 miles) – why do none of those, or any others in North Yorkshire, come up? I’m now convinced that the GP-led centres are only bookable by GP surgeries themselves: our next-door neighbour, who is in the 75+ category (we are 70+), got a ‘phone call from the surgery, so we think we will wait for that instead.

I know someone who had to travel a long distance to York (Askham Bryan) for vaccination. I think you are right to wait for a local appointment, Lynda. We are in a lockdown and supposed to be staying at home.

I think the reason that nearer centres do not come up when using the NHS website is that they do not have any available appointment slots over the next seven days, either because they are not open every day or because of full demand from patients contacted by their GP surgery or by letter. As the initial surge from each cohort clears, more appointment slots should become available.

It’s worth checking the NHS website frequently for closer locations in case additional slots become available or additional capacity is provided. Otherwise, hang on and your GP’s office will contact you in due course because I believe all patients in the relevant categories are being ticked-off on a central database to make sure the vaccination coverage is as complete as possible.

@Lauren – Please update your lead article with the following important information:

Call for people aged 70 and over to contact NHS for a COVID jab 8 February 2021

People aged 70 and over who have not yet been vaccinated against COVID and who would like to be are today being asked to contact the NHS to arrange a jab.

Until now the NHS has asked people to wait until they are contacted to help ensure that those who are most vulnerable are protected first – and that remains the case for most people.

However, to ensure absolutely everyone is offered the vaccine, people aged 70 and over can now contact the NHS so they can be vaccinated by the middle of this month.

The easiest way to arrange a vaccination is through the national booking service which can be accessed at http://www.nhs.uk/covid-vaccination

The system allows patients to choose a time slot and location that suits them.

Anyone unable to book online can call 119 free of charge, anytime between 7am and 11pm seven days a week.