Although the vaccine rollout for healthcare workers has begun, myths and misinformation continue to circulate around its development, efficacy and just how it will help manage or mitigate the spread of the virus. We asked Lee Callakoppen, principal officer of Bonitas Medical Fund, for his top 10 facts.
1. How does the Covid-19 vaccine work?
The Covid-19 vaccines produce protection against the disease by developing an immune response to the SARS-Cov-2 virus. It stimulates an immune response to an antigen, a molecule found on the virus and provides a supply of ‘memory’ T- and B-lymphocytes that help fight that virus in the future.
There are four types of Covid vaccines and they are all trying to achieve the same things: Immunity to the virus, reduction of symptoms if you are infected and being able to slow down or stop transmission.
South Africa is currently using the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) single dose vaccine but, regardless of which vaccine you receive, you won’t reach full protection until around two weeks after the vaccination. Your immune system needs this time to develop the antibody response.
2. It is safe?
Yes. The vaccine that is being used in South Africa is safe and has been given to millions of people around the world. Although it was developed very quickly to save lives, it has gone through the same rigorous processes as other vaccines.
All medical products have to be approved by South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) before they can be administered.
3. Are there any side effects?
Some individuals vaccinated with the J&J vaccine have experienced temporary, mild side effects. They are similar to those experienced with other vaccines, such as soreness at the injection site, muscle pain, chills and a headache. Some also experienced fatigue and nausea. These are nothing to worry about and will disappear within a couple of days.
4. Can you be allergic to it?
People who are prone to allergies should inform the healthcare personnel administering the vaccine beforehand. This, in order for them to observed and monitored for a longer period after receiving the vaccine. However, if you experience a severe allergic reaction after getting it, call for emergency medical assistance.
5. Can you get Covid from the vaccine?
No. None of the Covid-19 vaccines contain the live virus that causes the coronavirus. J&J uses a harmless, modified form of the common cold virus in humans, called adenovirus. The vaccine will help your immune system fight the virus but will not infect you with it.
6. How effective is it?
No vaccine is 100% effective but fortunately, the emerging data on Covid-19 vaccines have a high efficacy, at least against some of the variants.
If a vaccine has 70% efficacy, it means a person vaccinated in a clinical trial is around two-thirds less likely to develop the disease than someone in the trial who didn’t receive the vaccine. Due to the severity of the virus, a 50% efficacy threshold was set for Covid-19 vaccine.
7. Am I forced to have the vaccine?
No. Having the Covid-19 vaccination remains a personal choice as confirmed by President Cyril Ramaphosa.
8. Do I need the vaccine if I have already had Covid-19?
Yes, the advice is that you should still be vaccinated even if you have had Covid-19 or if you have a positive antibody test. Research indicates that the natural immunity from having Covid does not last which means the best way of fighting the virus is a combination of being vaccinated and following the protocols.
9. Will I be immune after the vaccine and will this be forever?
It is too soon to know how long the vaccine will last as it is still being researched. Of the people who have received the vaccine, we know that they have been protected from Covid-19 for at least four months. The risk of Covid-19 infection in vaccinated people cannot be completely eliminated.
10. What does herd immunity mean?
Herd immunity occurs when a large part of the population becomes immune to a virus, through vaccination or infection. South Africa’s Department of Health (DoH) is aiming to vaccinate 67% of the country’s population against Covid-19 – this equates to around 41 million people – to achieve herd immunity and slow down the rate of transmission of the virus.