COVID-19 vaccines: what you need to know and why you should get vaccinatedSunday, March 21, 2021
Dr Ernest Madu and Dr Ernest Madu
After more than one year of living with the dreaded COVID-19 virus, vaccines are now available for preventing infection or serious illness, if infected. This is happening at an auspicious time for Jamaica given the recent upsurge in the number of cases with reports of 30 per cent positivity rates in some samples in our island.
With the roll-out of vaccines, many individuals have expressed concerns and anxiety about the efficacy of the vaccines and potential risks to them especially given various reports in many media of “adverse reactions” to vaccines. While many of these reports are unsubstantiated, they have created a lot of doubt and anxiety that limit uptake in some quarters. As more COVID-19 vaccines are being developed, routine processes and procedures remain in place and are designed to ensure safety of all vaccines approved for clinical administration to individuals. There are many reasons to get vaccinated. In today's column, we will attempt to address some of the concerns that individuals may have with a goal of reassuring our citizens of the need to take advantage of the opportunity to get vaccinated. Our column today will take the form of questions and answers to COVID-19 vaccine related questions.
I have received other vaccines in the past. Are they going to protect me against COVID?
While there have been speculations of potential benefit from other vaccines such as the Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine, which is used to prevent tuberculosis, there is no evidence that any other vaccines, apart from those specifically designed for the SARS-Cov-2 virus, will protect you against COVID-19. There are also widespread propositions of protective effect from several vitamins and minerals like zinc and vitamin D, but there is no conclusive evidence that they offer any measurable protection against contracting COVID-19 infection.
Are there any benefits to being vaccinated?
The short answer is yes. The COVID-19 vaccines currently in use produce protection against the disease by developing an immune response to the SARS-Cov-2 virus. Immunity developed through vaccination results in reduced risk of contracting the virus and a significantly reduced risk of becoming seriously ill from the infection. This means that vaccinated individuals are better protected from catastrophic complications of COVID-19. Getting vaccinated is important as this helps to protect those around you, like your family members, co-workers, and social circles. If you are protected from infection, then your risk of infecting someone else is also reduced. This is critically important for people who may be at risk for severe infections or complications such as the elderly and individuals with other medical conditions like heart disease and diabetes.
Are the COVID vaccines safe?
Regulators around the world have worked closely with the World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure the quality and safety of vaccines that have been approved for widescale use in the population. Even though the process of developing COVID-19 vaccines was fast-tracked using new technology, this was done with strict adherence to conventional global norms of safety, quality, and standards in vaccine development.
Many strict protections were enforced to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines are safe. Like all vaccines, prior to release for use in the population, COVID-19 vaccines went through a rigorous, multi-stage testing process, including large (phase III) trials that involved tens of thousands of people. These trials included some groups at high risk for COVID-19 and were specifically designed to identify any common side effects or other safety concerns.
Based on the evidence garnered from clinical trials, these vaccines have been adjudged to be reasonably safe by the WHO and several national regulators, even though some adverse events may occur in a few individuals relative to the population vaccinated. The risk benefit analysis supports a strong recommendation for vaccination.
Will the COVID vaccines stop the pandemic?
It is unclear if the vaccines by themselves will stop the pandemic. What we do know is that the vaccines will be an important tool in stopping the pandemic. The impact of COVID-19 vaccines on the pandemic will depend on several factors. These include the effectiveness of the vaccines; how quickly they are manufactured and delivered; global equity in vaccine access, the possible development of other variants and how many people get vaccinated including vulnerable and marginalised communities in poor countries and communities.
When US President Joe Biden took office in January, he promised to vaccinate 100 million Americans in 100 days. He has already exceeded that ambitious goal and reached 100 million Americans vaccinated in 58 days. Many other countries are also aggressively vaccinating their citizens. There are serious concerns still about global equity in vaccine access despite the global effort with the Covid-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) initiative. Most of the vaccinations currently are taking place in the most economically advanced countries. That alone will not end the pandemic and so it is important that less affluent countries have equal access to the vaccines. Fortunately, Jamaica has received a first batch of vaccines and the vaccination programme is currently ongoing. We hope that many of our people will take advantage of the opportunity and get vaccinated so that we can begin to control the upsurge of cases in Jamaica.
Will I get lifelong protection against COVID from the vaccine?
We do not know. What we do know, however, is that many people who recover from COVID-19 develop an immune response that provides some period of protection against reinfection — although it is still not clearly understood how strong this protection is or how long it lasts. With respect to COVID vaccines, we have limited information on the duration of protection but based on vaccine science, the vaccines are expected to offer a reasonably long period of protection even if not lifelong. It must be noted that these vaccines have only been available for a few months and so it is way too early to know the duration of protection offered by these vaccines. This is, however, a topic of ongoing investigation and over time, the duration of protection will become clearer.
Can a vaccine make me sick with COVID-19?
No. None of the COVID-19 vaccines contain the live virus that causes COVID-19 so a COVID-19 vaccine cannot make you sick with COVID-19.
Will COVID-19 vaccine prevent me from getting the disease?
Many COVID-19 vaccines currently available have been shown to be highly effective at preventing COVID-19, even though efficacy varies. The Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna vaccines so far appear to be the most effective vaccines based on research data. However, both the Johnson and Johnson and the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines are also highly effective against the SARS-Cov-2 virus. While there is no absolute guarantee that the vaccines will protect all vaccinated people from infection, what is known from multiple studies is that vaccinated people are much less likely to get severely sick from the virus if they get infected. A recent study of over 100,000 vaccinated individuals showed that no vaccinated individuals required hospitalisation from COVID-19 infection. This is a very strong benefit of vaccination. It will likely keep you from being hospitalised or needing to be put on a breathing machine.
What about the risk of clotting with the AstraZeneca vaccine?
Even though there have been reports of increased clotting related events in individuals who received the AstraZeneca vaccine, WHO has conducted a detailed analysis of the data and reaffirmed that this risk is no more in vaccinated individuals when compared to the unvaccinated group in the population.
Dr Ernest Madu, MD, FACC and Dr Paul Edwards, MD, FACC, are Consultant Cardiologists at Heart Institute of the Caribbean (HIC) and HIC Heart Hospital. Correspondence to email@example.com or call 876-906-2107
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