If you’ve been listening to Manx whispers, you’ll have heard all sorts of things about the vaccine- from altering our DNA, to conspiracy theories that Bill Gates is popping microchips in our arms (spoiler alert: there’s already microchips in our phones, laptops, smart speakers- why would they need to pop them in our bodies?). Instead of going to the Whatsapp group chats to debunk the myths, we’ve asked a very clever local doctor, Dr Jennifer Duggan, who works at the Southern Practice, to give us the low down on the vaccine.
How does the vaccine work?
Coronaviruses, including the one that causes Covid-19 are named because of their crown like spikes on their surface. These spike proteins are the ideal targets for vaccines.
To make the Oxford Astrazeneca vaccine, scientists take the genes that code for the spike protein on the coronavirus and inject these into another harmless virus. In this case, they use a weakened version of a common cold virus (known as an adenovirus). This is then injected as a vaccine.
Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use Messenger RNA (mRNA). This is a small piece of genetic material copied from the coronavirus that tells the body to make the specific spike protein. To make the vaccine the scientists enclose the mRNA strands in nanoscale fat globules, which enables them to be injected as a vaccine and stops the body from damaging it.
When a vaccine enters our body it is taken up by some of our cells, which start to make the specific spike protein.
The body’s immune system reacts to the spike protein and produces antibodies and T Cells.
If the patient later catches coronavirus the body is already programmed to recognise the specific spike proteins. This triggers the antibodies and T Cells which fight the virus.
Does the vaccine work like other vaccines?
The Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine for Covid-19 comes out of decades of research on adenovirus-based vaccines. In July 2020, the first one was approved for general use: the vaccine for Ebola, made by Johnson & Johnson. Advanced clinical trials are underway using adenovirus vaccines for other diseases, including H.I.V. and Zika.
The Pfizer and Moderna Vaccines are some of the first messenger RNA vaccines to be produced and tested in large-scale phase III human trials. It is important to note that neither the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines can interact with or alter your DNA in any way. MRNA is not the same as DNA and cannot be combined with DNA to change your genetic code. The mRNA is fragile, so after it delivers the instructions to your cells, it breaks down and disappears from the body in about 72 hours. The mRNA never goes into the nucleus of the cell. This is the part of the cell that contains your DNA.
Are there any other vaccines that work like the Covid-19 vaccines?
The Johnson and Johnson vaccine for Ebola uses the same technology as the Oxford Astrazeneca Covid-19 vaccine.
Does the vaccine prevent Covid?
The vaccine does not prevent you from catching the coronavirus. However, as the immune system is already primed to recognise and attack the virus, the body is able to fight the coronavirus much more effectively. The vaccine will reduce the chance of suffering from Covid-19 and especially developing serious illness as a result of Covid-19.
Is the Vaccine Vegan?
The COVID-19 vaccines do not contain any animal or egg products, alcohol, or foetal cells or products. They are therefore suitable for people whose faith or dietary requirements mean they cannot have certain types of meat or who follow a vegetarian diet.
The laws and regulatory agencies worldwide currently require that new drugs and treatments are tested on animals before clinical trials on humans. The Vegan Society issued a statement on the COVID-19 vaccine. They stated “The definition of veganism recognises that it is not always possible or practicable to avoid animal use, which is particularly relevant to medical situations. In the case of Covid-19, vaccination will play a fundamental role in tackling the pandemic and saving lives’.
Can the vaccine cause infertility?
There is no evidence to suggest that the Covid vaccine has any effect on fertility. The Royal College of Midwives and The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists have issued a joint statement about Covid-19 vaccinations, fertility and pregnancy. In this they state: ‘We want to reassure women that there is no evidence to suggest that Covid-19 vaccines will affect fertility. Claims of any effect of Covid-19 vaccination on fertility are speculative and not supported by any data. There is no biologically plausible mechanism by which current vaccines would cause any impact on women’s fertility’.
Do doctors or scientists know the long-term effects?
Since December, more than 200 million people have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine worldwide. That’s more than the total number of people who have been infected with the virus.
Given the sheer number of vaccines administered to date, common, uncommon and rare side-effects would have been detected by now. What’s more, scientists have been testing these vaccines in clinical trials since mid-2020, and both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines have shown excellent safety results.
Scientists and doctors know from previous vaccines, that if side-effects are going to occur, they usually happen within a few months after getting a vaccine. The vaccine itself does not remain in the body for long, and the side effects which are felt in the days following it being administered are from your body’s immune response to the vaccine.”
Checking the safety of the vaccines doesn’t just stop after they’ve been registered for use. Once a vaccine has been introduced, ongoing monitoring of its safety is a crucial part of the vaccine development process. The UK has a robust system for this ongoing monitoring. This will detect any unexpected side-effects from vaccines (if they occur) and ensure they’re investigated promptly.
Can you drink after the vaccine?
The MRHA, which approved the jab and judged it to be safe, have said that there is currently no evidence that drinking alcohol interferes with the efficacy of the Covid-19 vaccines.
UK Charity Drinkaware have released precautionary advice. From what we know about alcohol’s impact on the body’s immune system, it is plausible, if a person drinks alcohol before or after vaccination, especially regular heavy drinking, that protection from vaccination could be less than optimal. The charity advises people to consider not drinking for two days before and up to two weeks after being vaccinated.
It stressed however that people should not turn down the jab if they feel unable or unwilling to abstain.
Vaccine side effects include muscle aches and pains and feeling under the weather. Compounding that with a hangover runs the risk of making you feel much worse.
How long do the side effects last? When should I see a doctor if my symptoms persist?
It’s normal to experience side effects after the vaccine. It shows the vaccine is teaching your body’s immune system how to protect itself from the disease, however not everyone gets them.
Most of these are mild and short term. They may include:
· tenderness, swelling and/or redness at the injection site
· headache or muscle ache
· joint pain
· nausea or vomiting
· feeling tired
· fever (temperature above 37.8°C).
These common side effects are much less serious than developing coronavirus or complications associated with coronavirus and they usually go away within a few days.
If you develop symptoms that worry you or could in fact be Covid contact 111
If you feel uncomfortable, take paracetamol as directed on the packet or label.
Another possible side effect is swollen glands in the armpit or neck, on the same side as the arm where you had the vaccine.
This can last for around 10 days, but if it lasts longer see your doctor.
You should seek urgent medical attention if you get any of these symptoms starting from around 4 days to 4 weeks after being vaccinated:
- a severe headache that is not relieved with painkillers or is getting worse
- a headache that feels worse when you lie down or bend over
- a headache that’s unusual for you and occurs with blurred vision, feeling or being sick, problems speaking, weakness, drowsiness or seizures (fits)
- a rash that looks like small bruises or bleeding under the skin
- shortness of breath, chest pain, leg swelling or persistent abdominal (tummy) pain
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