WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE COVID-19 VACCINE

Yes, there are multiple COVID-19 vaccines. Certain vaccines from some countries’ regulatory authorities have been approved for use and many more COVID-19 vaccines are currently being developed. Once vaccines are demonstrated to be safe and effective, the World Health Organization (WHO) collaborates with global partners to ensure equal access to COVID-19 vaccines for the billions of people who will need it. Most COVID-19 vaccines being tested or reviewed require two doses.

Vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 allow a person to develop antibodies and T-cells to certain parts of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, so that when a person is exposed to the real virus, they can protect themselves against infection. The Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines work by providing sections of the virus RNA (genes) that code for the spike protein.  When the body’s immune cells use the vaccine RNA to make spike protein, the body develops antibodies to it, and also creates special immune cells (T-cells) that are able to 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.

No, you don’t need to test for COVID-19 infection before receiving the vaccine. If a person is feeling sick or have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, it is better to wait for 30-days after recovery, or after a 10-day quarantine period has been completed.

Yes, a person can have good protection following a single infection.

Immune responses are variable and some people develop better immunity than others. A person’s immunity is boosted every time they are exposed to the virus.

We are not sure about long-term immunity, which means that boosters shots may be required in the future.

Yes. There is good evidence to show that persons who have antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 after infection will develop stronger immune responses to SARS-CoV-2 after vaccination. Evidence has shown that some people with mild or asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 do not develop strong antibody responses. Therefore vaccination after COVID-19 infection is a way to strengthen our immune responses and further reduce our chances of getting COVID-19.

You should wait a minimum of 30 days after recovery to receive a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine

No. When a COVID-19 vaccine is injected into the shoulder muscle, the vaccine contains only a small part of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the ‘spike protein gene’. This piece of the gene cannot replicate (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 incubation (or ‘window’) period.

The natural immune response to COVID-19 will be boosted through vaccination. Having at least 30-days between infection and vaccination would lead to an enhanced boosting of immunity.

No, there should not be any conflict with existing natural antibodies. There is still much to learn about these immune responses. A natural immune response might be variable, so there is a benefit in boosting the natural immunity with the vaccine.

It depends on the vaccine supply. There may come a time when a person will be able to choose.

The vaccine will start to work about two weeks after the first dose. And a person will get maximum protection following full vaccination, in other words, both doses.

The South African government has chosen to wait an interval of 42 days between the first and second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. This decision was taken after evidence has shown that older patients who delay the second dose of mRNA vaccines have a much stronger immune response.

If the side effects following the first dose were mild or moderate, a person should have the second vaccination. However, if there was a severe allergic reaction to the first dose, then the second dose isn’t advisable. With that said, please discuss your options with your healthcare provider as each case would need to be carefully assessed.

The person can continue with the second dose but will have to wait for atleast 30-days after recovery to get the vaccine.

From what we know about how vaccines work, the chance of a negative reaction between the vaccine and any medication is very small. Taking medication is not a reason to delay getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Individuals with chronic medical conditions are at high risk of developing severe COVID-19 disease and will benefit from the vaccine, which will decrease the risk of severe disease. Oral anti-inflammatory or immunosuppressant medications, for instance, cortisone might interfere with vaccination and make it less effective.

The first COVID-19 vaccines are currently being introduced in certain countries. Before COVID-19 vaccines can be delivered the vaccines must be proven safe and effective in large clinical trials. For the WHO to consider a vaccine, a series of independent reviews relating to the efficacy and safety must be done, including regulatory review and approval in the country where the vaccine is manufactured.

In addition to reviewing the data for regulatory purposes, the evidence must also be reviewed for policy recommendations on how the vaccines should be used. An external panel of experts convened by WHO, the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE), analyses the results from clinical trials, along with evidence on the disease, age groups affected, risk factors for disease, and other information. The panel then recommends whether and how the vaccines should be used. Thereafter officials in individual countries decide whether to approve the vaccines for use in their country and if approved they develop policies for how to use the vaccines based on the WHO recommendations.

The vaccines must be manufactured in large quantities, an unprecedented challenge, as other important life-saving vaccines (already in use), also continue to be produced. As a final step, all approved vaccines will require distribution through a complex logistical process, with rigorous stock management and temperature control.

Several factors will determine the impact of vaccines on the COVID-19 pandemic. These factors include the effectiveness of the vaccines; how quickly they are approved, manufactured, and delivered; and how many individuals are vaccinated.

As is the case with all vaccines, most scientists anticipate that COVID-19 vaccines will not be 100 percent effective. The WHO will help ensure that any approved vaccines are as effective as they can be, to have the greatest possible impact on the pandemic.

Presently it is too early to know if COVID-19 vaccines will provide long-term disease protection, as additional research needs to be conducted. However, the data available suggests that most individuals who recover from COVID-19 develop an immune response that provides some period of protection against reinfection. How strong this protection is and how long it lasts, is not yet clear.

COVAX is a global alliance bringing together governments, global health organisations, manufacturers, scientists, the private sector, civil society and philanthropy, to provide innovative and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. This will ensure that individuals across the globe, regardless of financial or societal status, will have access to COVID-19 vaccines once available.

South Africa is part of a global alliance known as COVAX, who are working towards expediting the development and manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines. COVAX will also ensure fair and equal access of these vaccines and will allocate vaccines across countries, based on a framework developed by a group of ethicists, scientists, and other health experts, which is vetted by the WHO’s Member States.

Once the COVAX vaccines have proved to be safe, effective, have successfully undergone clinical trials, and have received regulatory approval, available doses will be allocated to participating countries at the same rate, proportional to their total population size.

No country will receive enough doses to vaccinate more than 20 percent of its population until all countries in the COVAX group have been offered this amount.

The South African Products Health Regulatory Authority has approved four vaccines for emergency use, under section 21. These include AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson, and CoronaVac.

The Pfizer, and Johnson and Johnson vaccines are being rolled out at the moment.