COVID-19 Vaccine: 14 Commonly Asked Questions

Global efforts in making a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine are now bearing fruit. Three vaccines have received regulatory authorization or approval around the globe. Some more are in Phase 3 clinical trials, while some others are promising candidates in early development. The approved vaccines developed in different countries include the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine (mRNA-1273), COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca (AZD1222); also known as Covishield, Sputnik V, and Covaxin developed by ICMR and Bharat Biotech.

In India where coronavirus tally has reached 1,09,25,710 including 1,36,872 active cases and 1,06,33,025 discharges, the COVID vaccine was launched on 16th January, 2021. The first group included healthcare and frontline workers. In March the second group will receive COVID vaccines. This group will include people over 50 years of age and those below 50 years with co-morbidity. The Serum Institute of India (SII), world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, is mass producing the AstraZeneca vaccine, developed along with Oxford University. The production will help dozens of poor and middle-income countries in vaccinating people on a large scale.

As India is all set to roll out the second phase of vaccination, an array of questions arise among the public regarding the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.  In this blog, we have listed the commonly asked questions regarding COVID19 vaccine along with their answers.

1. What are the most widely used COVID-19 vaccines?

Three vaccines- Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna COVID-19 vaccine (mRNA-1273), and COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca (AZD1222) also known as Covishield are the most widely used in the world.

2. What are the ingredients in COVID-19 vaccine?

Ingredients differ from vaccine to vaccine. Pfizer and Moderna use mRNA to reproduce proteins in the human cells which are similar in structure to corona virus protein. Once vaccinated, the human bodies produce antibodies against the proteins.  On the other hand, Covisheild uses DNA as a Platform. It makes use of an Adenovirus as a vector to put the DNA Code into the human cell. Antibodies are then produced by the human body against these DNA segments. Covaxin uses the killed Covid-19 virus. That said some other constituents such as lipids, salts and sucrose are more or less similar in all the vaccines. 

3. Which provides longer immunity- recovering from COVID or protection with vaccine?

Getting COVID-19 infection possibly creates immunity that may last for 3-5 months, while scientists say that the COVID vaccine should ensure immunity for a longer period of time. However, the period of immunity that the vaccine will induce is still not confirmed. Also there are chances of mutations in the COVID strain that is circulating, as well as a further chance that these new “mutated variants” may escape the vaccine. As and when it happens alterations in the vaccine will become essential. 

4. What percentage of the population needs to be vaccinated in order to attain herd immunity?

No definite percentage has been confirmed by the medical fraternity yet. But most doctors estimate that at least 70% of a country’s population must be vaccinated or get a natural infection to achieve some sort of herd immunity.

5. Will the vaccine be safe as it is being tested and introduced in a short span of time?

Effective development of vaccines and judging its safety and efficacy, usually takes a longer period of time. However, to control the massive devastations that the virus was creating, vaccination had to be introduced in a short span of time. The medical fraternity is of the opinion that every possible effort has been taken to ensure that the vaccines are not only effective but also safe. Additionally any problems or “adverse events” after the vaccination are being rigorously tracked worldwide and data being made public.

6. Is it mandatory to take the vaccine? 

Healthcare professionals strongly recommend taking the vaccination for those who do not have any of the contraindications. Vaccines also play a big role in attaining herd immunity. However, it is not compulsory and depends ultimately on individual choice.

7. Do people who recover from COVID-19 need the vaccine?

Yes. Immunity from natural infection is known to last for a limited period of time, while the vaccines are expected to provide immunity for a longer period. This is why those who have recovered from COVID-19 will need to get the shots. However they should discuss the timing of the vaccine with their doctors.

8. How many shots of the vaccine are needed?

All the three popular vaccination programs- Pfizer, Moderna and Covisheild recommend two shots to be taken within a definite interval of time. 

9. It is important to wear a mask and maintain social distance after taking the vaccine?

It is important to wear a mask and maintain social distance even after getting the vaccine as vaccination might not prevent the infection but reduces the severity of the ailment. There will still be chances of getting an infection and a mild form of disease which one can then pass to others with low immunity.

10. Can one get the vaccine along with other vaccines?

You can safely take the COVID-19 vaccine if you have taken the vaccine for any other disease. However, doctors suggest some period of gap between two vaccinations.

11. Can one take the COVID-19 vaccine, when on medication for Cancer, Diabetes, or Hypertension?

Generally, even if one is on medication for these conditions, it is safe to take vaccination. But any specific questions regarding one’s individual condition or medication should be discussed with a doctor.

12. Are there any preventive measures and precautions that one needs to follow, before and after the vaccine?

In case one has, illness in the form of viral or bacterial illness or especially any kind of high fever it is appropriate to wait and get cleared by the doctor before taking the vaccine. 

After the vaccine if there is pain or fever one can take Paracetamol, which is not contraindicated. It is important to note that after the shot, a certain period of time will be required for the immunity to be boosted. Hence, after getting the second dose and may be a couple of weeks thereafter, one needs to maintain all precautions to prevent the virus infection.

13. What are the possible side-effects from COVID-19 vaccine?   

Some commonly reported side effects of the vaccine are local pain in the vaccinated site, weakness or fatigue, fever, headache or mild flu like symptoms. Mild allergy – constituting a rash with itching is not very common, but something to watch out for. A severe allergy or anaphylaxis is extremely rare, it is to watch for this reaction that people are observed for 30 minutes after getting the vaccine.   It is very important to consult a doctor if someone has a history of severe allergy. Pregnant or lactating mothers should not go for the vaccination or should discuss with their doctor, as the vaccine trials did not include these groups. 

14. When would the antibodies develop? After taking the first dose, after taking the second dose or much later?

Antibodies start developing after the first dose itself, but the process gets accelerated after a few weeks of taking the first shot. For an optimal antibody production, the second dose of the vaccine, which would be a booster dose, will be important. A couple of days or weeks after the second dose one would have an optimal level of antibodies in blood.

That said, doctors and scientists feel that even after getting the vaccine dose/s, one will not be able to return to normal life immediately.

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