Right now, if there is one thing that people are most concerned about, it is when they will get vaccinated. In India, most people understand the importance of vaccines, especially when it comes to a mass outbreak of a disease, such as COVID-19 right now.
But, there are also some apprehensions as to how efficient the vaccine is, and what happens after a person has been inoculated.
Dr Rajesh Parikh, neuropsychiatrist and the author of the first book on vaccine ‘The Vaccine Book‘, answers these and several other such pressing questions. Read on.
1. What is the key factor while taking a decision on whether to be vaccinated?
It is that vaccination works effectively in controlling pandemics — both in past pandemics, such as smallpox and polio, and in the current pandemic — in countries which have vaccinated more than 50 per cent of their population.
2. What is the efficacy of a vaccine?
Vaccine efficacy is the degree to which a vaccine provides protection, controls transmission and reduces the incidence of a disease in controlled conditions. The smallpox vaccine with 95 per cent efficacy has eradicated the disease. The oral polio vaccine with an efficacy of 98 per cent has almost eliminated polio from the world. The COVID-19 vaccines that have been approved so far offer greater than 70 per cent efficacy.
Vaccine effectiveness is its efficacy and safety in the ‘real world’. The vaccines that have been approved against COVID-19 have all been effective.
3. What is involved in judging the safety of a vaccine?
First, vaccine developers need to ensure the vaccine is not harmful. Phase 1 studies, rightly termed ‘first in human’, are aimed at establishing the safety of the drug. This ensures the fundamental principle of ‘first, do no harm’ is sacrosanct. Besides, safety data is gathered throughout vaccination.
4. What are the side effects of vaccines?
Vaccine side-effects are common but mild. Overall across vaccines, the side effects may feel like flu and even affect the ability to do daily activities, but they should go away in a few days. It is important to take the second shot of the vaccine despite side effects, unless medically advised otherwise.
5. Should I take the COVID-19 vaccine?
Yes. The data from the COVID-19 pandemic as well as from past pandemics is compellingly in favour of vaccination. At this stage, vaccines are our only hope and their efficacy is better than expected.
6. Why should I take the vaccine if I have been fine so far?
Well, not just for your own sake, but also for that of your family, especially the elders. Besides, you help humanity, too, by contributing to our cumulative immunity against the virus.
7. Once vaccinated, will I be free to get back to my pre-COVID lifestyle?
No. The vaccine reduces but does not eliminate your risk of getting infected. Besides, you are at risk of infecting others even if not at the risk of getting infected. So until the pandemic is fully under control, our COVID-19 precautions should continue.
8. Should those who have recovered from COVID-19 get vaccinated?
Yes. Though not in a rush. We do not know how long the immunity from having recovered from COVID-19 lasts, though some studies indicate it is for six months. Besides, there is no test of immune status. It is safest to get vaccinated.
9. Should those with comorbid conditions such as heart diseases, diabetes, lung diseases get vaccinated?
Yes. Individuals with comorbid diseases are a high-risk group and they should get vaccinated.
10. How safe is the vaccine for children?
We don’t know. All the clinical trials thus far have been on adults, but some trials are now being carried out on children. Pfizer started trials in October 2020, limiting the testing to ages 12 and older. Moderna has indicated it will begin testing in children ages 12 through 17. During this process, medical professionals will examine the dosages, interval between doses, and the number of doses that work best in children. The process could take many months and children may have to wait till early 2022.
11. Can someone get Covid-19 from the vaccine?
No. The vaccines use inactivated virus, parts of the virus or a gene from the virus. None of these can cause Covid-19.
12. When does the immunity take effect?
About 4-6 weeks after the first dose and 10-12 days after the second.
13. Does the vaccine affect fertility?
No. The coronavirus, however, does. It is safer to be vaccinated.
14. If I’m breastfeeding, is it advisable to take the vaccine?
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices states breastfeeding women may take the vaccine. It is not known if the vaccines are passed through breast milk. Live viral vaccines are routinely given to lactating women.