So you have received your coronavirus vaccine, waited for two weeks for your immune system to respond to the shot and are now fully vaccinated. Does this mean you can resume the old days without fear of spreading the virus?
After a year or so of lockdown, the death of our loved ones, loss of jobs and collapse of businesses, we finally have a vaccine for Covid-19. To date, about 140 million cases of Covid-19 have been registered globally and approximately three million friends, family and acquaintances have passed away.
Luckily, the advances in science over the last decade have enabled us to see an unprecedented rapid development of vaccines to prevent the disease and its severity. Uganda has reportedly vaccinated at least 232,514 people with the first dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. While this should bring a sigh of relief, a number of Ugandans still have questions on the safety of the vaccines, the need for observing prevention measures after vaccination, new variants of the virus that causes Covid-19 and whether there is need for Covid-19 testing after vaccination. Of course, some still question whether we need the vaccine altogether, considering that compared to others, we have been saved from its worst effects.
Why you need the vaccine
The argument that we do not need the vaccine because we have registered few deaths ignores the long-term complications of Covid-19. About one in five people will experience long term (and perhaps permanent) complications, including impaired lung function, new onset diabetes, kidney dysfunction, hair loss, stroke, anxiety, depression, sleep difficulties, chronic headache, persistent muscle weakness, fatigue, loss of smell.
In fact, one study has found that more than 80 per cent of patients will experience at least one persistent symptom after Covid-19 “cure”. Therefore, we need the vaccine to prevent these and other yet to be known complications. Moreover, in the not-so-likely event that you get Covid-19 when already vaccinated, the disease will be mild.
Effectiveness of the vaccine
It is understandable for one to question how rapid the vaccines have been developed. Currently, there are several vaccines being administered globally (and more than 50 in offing). The most popular are those made by Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson and Johnson and AstraZeneca. The latter is the one currently administered in Uganda.
There has been tremendous progress in developing technologies that enable rapid development of vaccines over the last decade. Also, there was considerable financial investments by governments to support the scientists to develop the vaccine. Additionally, the use of social media enabled scientists to recruit participants quickly to study the safety and efficacy of the vaccines. All approved vaccines have, after large studies, proven that their benefits outweigh the risks before receiving licensure.
A study of 11 Covid-19 vaccines has shown that most of the vaccines are able to protect 90 per cent of the people who are fully vaccinated from acquiring the virus. Less than 30 per cent experience side effects, majority of which are pain at the injection site and fatigue that resolves within 24 hours.
Moreover, the vaccines are also protective against developing severe disease and death from Covid-19 should one get the disease when vaccinated. Individuals who have suffered Covid-19 develop stronger immunity when they get vaccinated. So, yes the vaccine is effective and safe.
About blood clots
There have been concerns about blood clots after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine. While cases of clots have been reported, they have been too few (as low as six in one million vaccinated people) and occurred in predominantly older individuals who may have other risk factors for blood clots. It is not yet very clear whether the vaccine is the cause of the clots. Therefore, blood clots would be a very rare side effect of the vaccine, if indeed they are attributed to the vaccine.
For that reason, many countries that had initially paused vaccination with the AstraZeneca vaccine resumed the roll out process. Another concern is whether one can contract Covid-19 from the vaccine. The current vaccines do not contain the virus that causes Covid-19. You, therefore, cannot get the virus from the vaccine. The Ministry of Health has an active surveillance mechanism for side effects of the vaccine which you can use to report any symptoms you may experience after vaccination. You can do so by calling 0800100066 (toll free).
The new variants
The nature of viruses is that they keep changing their genetic makeup, a process called mutation. Once this happens, the virus can change the bits and pieces that make it up. On the other hand, vaccines usually stimulate the immune system to target a certain protein of the virus. Once this protein changes form (which can occur after mutation), the vaccine may become ineffective against the new form of the virus.
So far, there have been at least five variants of the “original” virus which appear to be more transmissible than the original virus. The good news is that the current vaccines still have some protection against the new variants although it is not as strong as what is observed with the “original virus”. This means it is still beneficial to get vaccinated.
Moreover, once most people are vaccinated, the virus will not get the chance to spread and mutate. Additionally, the vaccine makers are making progress in updating the current vaccines to be able to prevent new variants.
What you can do after vaccination
It is important to note that you are not fully vaccinated until about two weeks after receiving the second dose of vaccine (in our case, the AstraZeneca vaccine). The Ministry of Health will provide guidelines on what we can and cannot do after being fully vaccinated.
It is likely that after full vaccination, one will be able to travel without the need for Covid-19 testing or quarantine depending on the destination. Additionally, one may be able to interact privately with fully vaccinated individuals without a mask or social distancing.
However, large gatherings, poorly ventilated spaces and interacting with people at high risk of Covid-19 without a mask needs to be avoided. Additionally, you would not need to be tested for Covid-19 even if you were a contact of a patient unless you have symptoms. That said, there are still many unknowns, especially with the emergence of the new variants.
It is also not well established whether vaccinated people cannot transmit the virus. For now, it is still wise to wear the masks in public spaces, wash hands or sanitise regularly and social distance.