Why should I take a COVID-19 vaccine?
It is highly recommended that all eligible take the vaccines because they have the potential to do the following:
- Reduce the risk of getting COVID-19 or becoming seriously ill or dying from it should you acquire the disease post vaccination.
- Prevent you from spreading the COVID-19 virus to others.
- Add to the number of people in the community who are protected from getting COVID-19, which makes it harder for the disease to spread and contributes to herd immunity.
- Prevent the COVID-19 virus from spreading and replicating, which allows it to mutate and possibly become more resistant to vaccines.
Approved COVID-19 vaccines provide a high degree of protection against becoming seriously ill and dying from the disease, although no vaccine is 100% protective. It will take a few weeks for your body to build immunity after getting a COVID-19 vaccination. As a result, it's possible that you could become infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 just before or after being vaccinated.
How do the vaccines work?
The vaccines work by causing the development of antibodies to certain parts of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, so that when a person is exposed to the real virus, they can then protect themselves against infection. The Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines work by providing sections of the virus RNA (genes) responsible for producing the spike protein on the surface of the virus. When the body’s immune cells use the vaccine RNA to make spike protein, the body develops antibodies to it and creates special immune cells (T-cells) that can target and kill infected cells. When SARS-CoV-2 virus enters the throat, nose or lung after a person is exposed to an infectious person, antibodies and T-cells kill the virus.
Which vaccines are available in South Africa?
As of 03 July 2021, three COVID-19 vaccines have been approved:
- Janssen (Johnson & Johnson)
- CoronaVac COVID-19 (Sinovac Life Sciences Co)
Also, as of the date above no applications have been received for the registration of vaccines manufactured by Moderna, Novavax, or Cuban manufacturers. Applications for one of the Sinopharm vaccines and for the Sputnik V vaccine, manufactured by the Gamaleya Research Institute, are currently being reviewed.
Can I get COVID-19 infection from the vaccine?
No. The vaccine contains only a small part of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the ‘spike protein gene’. This piece of the gene cannot grow on its own, nor can it cause damage to the lungs that an infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus causes. It is biologically impossible for a vaccine to give a person COVID-19 infection. If a person develops COVID-19 infection within 7-10 days after receiving the vaccine, this means that the person had been exposed to SARS-CoV-2 before receiving the vaccine, and that they were in the window period.
Who should take the vaccine?
The COVID-19 vaccines are safe for most people 18 years and older, including those with pre-existing conditions of any kind, including auto-immune disorders. These conditions include hypertension, diabetes, asthma, pulmonary, liver and kidney disease, as well as chronic infections that are stable and controlled. However, please discuss your specific situation with doctor if you:
- Have a compromised immune system
- Are pregnant (if you are already breastfeeding, you should continue after vaccination)
- Have a history of severe allergies, particularly to a vaccine (or any of the ingredients in the vaccine)
- Are severely frail
Should I get the COVID-19 vaccine even if I've already had COVID-19?
Getting COVID-19 might offer some natural protection or immunity from reinfection with the virus that causes COVID-19, but it's not clear how long this protection lasts. Since reinfection is still possible, and COVID-19 can cause severe medical complications, it's recommended that people who have already had COVID-19 get a COVID-19 vaccine. The current recommendation is that one should wait a minimum of 30 days after recovery to receive a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine.
Which vaccine should I take?
Take whatever vaccine is made available to you first. It is important to be vaccinated as soon as possible once it’s your turn and not wait. While research suggests that COVID-19 vaccines have lower efficacy against new variants, the vaccines still appear to provide protection against severe COVID-19. In addition, vaccine manufacturers are also creating booster shots to improve protection against variants.
Are COVID-19 vaccines safe?
All of the approved COVID-19 vaccines have been carefully tested and continue to be monitored. Like all vaccines, COVID-19 vaccines go through a rigorous, multi-stage testing process, including large clinical trials that involve tens of thousands of people. These trials are specifically designed to identify any safety concerns.
What are the contraindications to taking the vaccine?
There are very few conditions that would exclude someone from being vaccinated, and your doctor can you advise if you have any concerns. Also, each vaccine may have specific considerations for specific populations and health conditions. Based on available evidence, people with a history of severe allergic reactions to any ingredients of the COVID-19 vaccine should generally be excluded from COVID-19 vaccination in order to avoid possible adverse effects.
If you have a history of severe allergic reactions not related to vaccines or injectable medications, you may still get a COVID-19 vaccine. You should be monitored for 30 minutes after getting the vaccine. If you’ve ever had an immediate or severe allergic reaction to any ingredient in a COVID-19 vaccine, then it is recommended that you not get that specific vaccine. If you have an immediate or severe allergic reaction after getting the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, don't get the second dose. However, you might be able to get a different vaccine for your second dose.
Can children and pregnant women take the vaccine?
Trials are still ongoing to assess whether COVID-19 vaccines are safe for children, and when results become more definitive and available, the World Health Organization (WHO) and national authorities will provide updated guidance for vaccination in children. Vaccine trials targeting adults were prioritized because COVID-19 has proven to be a more serious and dangerous disease among older populations. There is inadequate data to assess vaccine safety in pregnancy.
However, people at high risk of exposure to the COVID-19 virus (such as health workers), or who have a history of underlying medical conditions that increase their risk of severe disease, may be vaccinated during pregnancy after consultation with their health care provider. There is no evidence that suggests vaccination would cause harm during pregnancy. The vaccine can be offered to those who are breastfeeding if they are part of a group recommended for vaccination (health workers, for example).
What should I expect after taking it?
Stay at the place where you get vaccinated for at least 15 minutes afterwards, just in case you have an unusual reaction, so health workers can help you. In most cases, minor side effects are normal. Common side effects after vaccination, which indicate that a person's body is building protection to COVID-19 infection include:
- Arm soreness
- Mild fever
- Muscle or joint aches
Contact your care provider if there is redness or pain where you got the shot that increases after 24 hours, or if side effects do not go away after a few days. If you experience an immediate severe allergic reaction to a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, you should not receive additional doses of the vaccine.
Can I take pain medication before or after getting a COVID-19 vaccine?
Taking painkillers such as paracetamol before receiving the COVID-19 vaccine to prevent side effects is not recommended. This is because it is not known how painkillers may affect how well the vaccine works. However, you may take paracetamol or other painkillers if you do develop side effects such as pain, fever, headache or muscle aches after vaccination.
What are possible serious side-effects?
In very rare instances some people can go on to develop severe side-effects, including blood clots, and these can present with the following symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
- Persistent abdominal pain
- Severe or persistent headaches or blurred vision
- Chest pain
- Leg swelling
If you've been exposed to COVID-19 and you develop symptoms more than three days after getting vaccinated, or the symptoms last more than two days, self-isolate and get tested.
Can I take the flu vaccine at the same time?
Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS CoV-2), which is responsible for causing Coronavirus disease or COVID-19, and the influenza virus, responsible for causing flu, both fall into the category of what are called RNA viruses. However, even though some of their symptoms overlap, they are different diseases, caused by different organisms. Therefore, one needs protection against both. It is recommended that you not take both vaccines at the same time. Consider taking them at least 14 days apart. Also, do not take the flu or COVID-19 vaccines when you are actively sick with either flu or COVID-19.
What should I do after taking the vaccines?
While a COVID-19 vaccine will prevent serious illness and death, we still don’t know the extent to which it keeps you from being infected and passing the virus on to others. The more we allow the virus to spread, the more opportunity the virus has to change. Continue to take actions to slow and eventually stop the spread of the virus:
- Maintain social distancing from unvaccinated people
- Wear a mask, especially in crowded, closed, and poorly ventilated settings
- Clean your hands frequently
- Cover any cough or sneeze in your bent elbow
- When indoors with others, ensure good ventilation, such as by opening a window
Lastly, it is very critical that you report any side effects beyond the expected ones to your local health professional or vaccination site. Also, please also report any new COVID-19 infection after vaccination.
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The content in this communication is for information purposes and is not intended to be detailed advice, you should seek the advice of your physician or a qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.