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FAQs on the Covishield Vaccine


Katrina Welch

FAQs on the Covishield Vaccine
Teachers in St Vincent have been advised to get an approved COVID-19 vaccination or a test before the start of school on April 12. (GP)

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The Covishield vaccine, which was developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca, is now being widely administered in Barbados.

Initially, it was met with much apprehension and people had many questions about the safety and necessity of the vaccine. Therefore, Better Health took the time to ask Immunologist and Senior Lecturer in Immunology at the UWI, Dr Kim Quimby five of the most frequently asked questions about this vaccine.

The Covishield vaccine, which was developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca, is now being widely administered in Barbados. How safe is this vaccine?

The side effects which people experience are similar to any other vaccine; so, it’s not really the side effects of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. The purpose of vaccination is to mount an immune response against the virus so that if you become infected with the real virus, your body already has immune cells waiting to kill the virus off.

When the immune response is activated, you experience symptoms such as fever, headache, lethargy, and some itching at the injection site. These responses are really just an indication that your immune response is functioning, your body is mounting a proper response and peradventure you get exposed to the actual pathogen later on, your body would be able to put up a defence against that pathogen.

Younger people have reported experiencing more severe short-term side effects after receiving their vaccine than older persons who generally have been reporting little to no side effects. Why is this occurring?

That is absolutely expected. When you’re younger all your systems are functioning better, everything is just more robust. So, if you get the vaccine and your immune system is functioning at 100 per cent, it’s really going to go there and attack and you’re really going to get that really good robust immune response.

As you get older, as with everything else, things start to slow down and your immune system also starts to slow down. So, when older people are exposed to the vaccine, their immune system is still responding but not as robustly.

How does the vaccine work in creating the herd immunity that we’re aiming for?

There are several types of immunity. There is sterilising immunity which means that nobody’s transmitting the virus, nobody is becoming infected. There is also functional immunity which means you might become infected but you won’t get sick from the disease.

Earlier studies of the AstraZeneca vaccine showed that even though people might still become infected with COVID, they don’t get sick from the infection. That’s an example of functional immunity.

Later reports are now showing that the AstraZeneca vaccine reduces the onward transmission of the virus by two thirds. So, people who receive the vaccine, even though they might still become infected, their ability to infect someone else is significantly reduced. That contributes to immunity.

Should people, particularly those with chronic diseases, disabilities or allergies, receive the vaccine?

People with non-communicable disease (NCDs) have been included in the studies and there has been no evidence to suggest that the vaccination caused them any adverse effects. The vaccination does not contain any live virus, so it cannot infect you, it does not replicate and does not cause any harm. What we have found is that these persons with NCDs, the elderly and the obese are at risk for severe disease, hospitalisation and death if they do become infected with COVID-19; so really, the vaccine is more for them than for anyone else.

Having a disability does not negate you from getting the vaccine, that’s fine. There’s nothing harmful in the vaccine. As for allergies, the concern only arises if you have previously had an allergic reaction to an active ingredient in a vaccine. That’s the only contraindication. So, if you’ve had a severe allergic reaction to a vaccine before, then you speak to your physician about it. However, if you have other reactions such as food allergies, or you get watery eyes and runny nose to certain foods, those are not contraindications to getting the vaccine. You can go ahead and get your vaccine.

For people who are absolutely resolute in their decision not to be vaccinated, is there a safe alternative?

There’s no alternative to vaccination. Those persons will have to continue doing the things that they would have done before such as wearing the mask, social distancing, ensuring good hand hygiene and keeping their hands from their faces. Unfortunately, those measures do not give the level of protection that is given by vaccination.

 

This article is brought to you by Better Health Magazine.