'When will I get Covid-19 vaccine? Are there side effects?' Top UNICEF official answers big questions
As several nations across the world have begun the roll-out of vaccines against the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), people have various queries regarding the distribution and side effects of the dose, the answers for which they have been looking on the internet.
Dr Robin Nandy, the principal advisor and chief of immunisation at UNICEF, has answered the most pressing questions concerning the vaccination programmes. Here are the excerpts from his online session:
Who should get the Covid-19 vaccine first and why?
The World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and other technical agencies are recommending prioritisation of the limited Covid-19 vaccine for healthcare workers and the high risk groups, which include the elderly and those with comorbidities, as the primary aim is keep the health workers and the health system functioning and to prevent severe disease and death. As more vaccines become available, we'll follow a tiered system which will extend vaccination to other population subgroups like essential non-health workers and gradually to other members of the community.
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It's really important that those who need the vaccine get it first and we must wait for our turn, and it will come.
Is the Covid-19 vaccine safe?
For vaccines, we have robust criteria to determine whether a vaccine is ready for widespread use. There are protocols within the pharmaceutical industry overseen by the WHO and various independent vaccine safety bodies looking at data. These form the opinion of regulatory authorities like the FDA in the cases of the United States, so all sorts of data are considered before making a determination whether a vaccine is safe for use.
For a new vaccine, some of the protocols remain the same. The aim of clinical trials is to look at the efficacy of the vaccine, i.e, whether it works, and the safety of the vaccine to ensure that it doesn’t do any harm to the recipient.
Safety monitoring does not end when a vaccine is licensed for emergency use or licensed for use more broadly. Safety surveillance of vaccines continues right through the course of vaccine implementation.
Are there side effects of the Covid-19 vaccine?
Vaccines, like any other biological product, like drugs and so on, all have potential side effects. However, in the case of Covid-19 vaccines, through the course of clinical trials we have not seen high frequency of any dangerous side effects. We will continue to monitor side effects.
The common side effects are rather temporary. They include swelling at the site of injection, a little bit of pain, things that can be controlled with paracetamol or Tylenol. In some cases, people experience a little bit of fatigue and weakness for a couple of days.
Will children be administered the Covid-19 vaccine?
In the initial vaccine trials, very few trials included children so we do not have efficacy and safety data on children. That's going to emerge as we roll out the vaccine among the elerderly and health workers. Trials will continue to assess the impact of the vaccine.
Can pregnant women, or those who are breastfeeding get the vaccine?
At this stage, we don't see any warning signs to prevent vaccine use among women who are breastfeeding because some of the advanced vaccine candidates are not live viral vaccines, they use different platforms. They're the mRNA vaccine, so no live substance. So we don't see too many contraindications to use with breastfeeding women. In terms of pregnancy, we don't expect a negative impact but this is an area we’re still learning. It also depends on the level of risk. If they're a frontline health worker with huge exposure then you've got to trade off and risk the benefit. But if you are not at high risk of infection, it changes your decision making.
Dr Robin Nandy concluded by saying that the fact that there is a vaccine must not make people complacent. “We need to continue to do everything we can to prevent Covid-19 transmission. We need to continue to use masks, practise physical distancing, and need to keep washing our hands.The vaccine goes along with all these measures and not at the cost of any of these others,” he said.
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- If cleared for emergency use, the J&J vaccine would offer a one-dose option that could help speed vaccinations.