Answers To Your Covid-19 Vaccine Concerns

By Ashswita Ravindran | 25 February 2021

Any Covid-19 vaccine given conditional registration by the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA) is assured to be safe and effective.

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KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 25 — As the first phase of Covid-19 vaccination begins, targeting frontliners, there are still some questions among health care workers surrounding the coronavirus vaccine.

Recently, between February 8 and February 19, CodeBlue conducted an online survey to study Covid-19 vaccine acceptance among health care workers. Among the 829 respondents comprising doctors, nurses, pharmacists, dentists, medical assistants etc, 6.3 per cent of the respondents said “not sure” and 4.9 per cent said “no” to the question: “Will you take the Covid-19 vaccine if offered to you?” 

Among respondents who said they were “not sure” and “no” to the Covid-19 vaccine, many gave reasons, such as they were not convinced that the vaccine is effective and safe, the vaccine development timeline was too fast etc. 

CodeBlue has compiled their important concerns and written an explanation based on information available to the public to address their concerns, in hopes to boost their vaccine confidence. Health care workers will be receiving their Covid-19 vaccine during the first phase of the National Covid-19 Vaccine Programme. 

‘I’m Not Convinced Vaccine Is Effective’

Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine brought to the Putrajaya district health office on February 24, 2021. Picture from Twitter @KKMPutrajaya.

So far, the Malaysian government has procured Covid-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech with an efficacy rate of 95 per cent, AstraZeneca (62 to 90 per cent), Sinovac (50.4 to 91.25 per cent), CanSinoBio (65.7 per cent), and Sputnik V (91.6 per cent). 

A vaccine efficacy of 95 per cent, for example, does not mean that five per cent of the vaccinated people got Covid-19. An efficacy rate of 95 per cent means that the vaccinated people had a 95 per cent lower risk of getting Covid-19 compared with the control group (those who were not vaccinated). This applies to all the efficacy rates. 

A huge real-world study involving 1.2 million people in Israel showed that the Pfizer vaccine was 94 per cent effective in preventing symptomatic Covid-19, seven or more days after the second dose.

The National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA) has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for use in Malaysia. A million Pfizer doses are expected to arrive by end March for an estimated 500,000 frontline workers from the health and security sectors.

‘I’m Not Convinced Vaccine Is Safe’ 

The common reported side effects of the Covid-19 vaccines are mild and temporary. The most reported side effects are pain, swelling, redness at the injection site, tiredness, headache, chills, joint pain, fever, nausea, feeling unwell, swelling of lymph nodes, and other side-effects that may be reported from time to time. 

Medical expert Dr Musa Nordin previously said that the risk of one developing anaphylaxis, a severe life threatening allergic reaction from a Covid-19 vaccine, is far smaller than from getting infected with Covid-19 itself. 

He explained in a webinar that the odds for an American dying from mRNA vaccine anaphylaxis is one in 303,000, a way smaller risk as compared to the risk of dying from Covid-19 at one in 300. 

‘Vaccine Produced Faster Than Usual’

Under normal circumstances, vaccine development can take anywhere between 10 to 15 years to develop due to complexity of vaccine development. However, for the Covid-19 vaccine, researchers were not starting from scratch

SARS-CoV-2 is a member of the coronavirus family and researchers have been studying coronaviruses for the past 50 years. Hence, scientists already had existing information on structure, genome, and life cycle of this type of virus. 

The testing processes for the vaccines did not skip any steps, but the vaccine developers conducted some stages of the process simultaneously to gather as much data as quickly as possible.

‘I’m Not Confident With mRNA Vaccines’

Viruses have genes made of DNA or RNA wrapped in a coat of proteins (spike protein for Covid-19), which the messenger RNA (mRNA) makes. 

Now, with the injection of an mRNA vaccine, cells use mRNA to make the protein piece. Following that, the immune system recognises that the protein doesn’t belong there and builds antibodies against it. 

‘I’m Immune Because I Previously Caught Covid-19’ 

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people who were previously infected with Covid-19 should get vaccinated because experts have yet to determine how long one will be protected from coronavirus after infection.

In a study published by BMJ on January 19, it was reported that there have been 31 Covid-19 reinfections found so far worldwide. Two of the cases died, while the rest had milder symptoms than their first infection with the coronavirus. 

Professors who conducted the study said that it is almost certain that immunity from mild infection doesn’t last long. 

‘I’m Pregnant, Not Much Data On Covid-19 Vaccines On Pregnant Women’

According to the guidebook on the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme, it was stated that pregnant and breastfeeding women are contraindicated, or should not take the Covid-19 vaccine. Currently, there is limited data on the efficacy or safety of Covid-19 vaccines on pregnant women. 

However, Malaysia’s vaccine minister Khairy Jamaluddin said last week that whether or not pregnant women should get vaccinated is under consideration by the Ministry of Health (MOH) and they will be making an announcement soon. 

Meanwhile, American infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci said that many pregnant women in the United States have gotten the Covid-19 vaccine and so far, there have not been any red flags among them. 

According to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) guidance on January 8, due to insufficient data, WHO doesn’t recommend vaccination of pregnant women. However, WHO said Covid-19 vaccination could be considered for pregnant or breastfeeding women with a high risk of exposure to the virus, like health care workers. 

‘I Have Comorbidities, Asthma, Hypertension’ 

Comorbidities are when a person has multiple existing health conditions, such as hypertension and diabetes together. 

In a study published by SN Comprehensive Clinical Medicine, it was found that people with comorbidities and underlying conditions have rapid and severe progression of Covid-19 leading to death. Hence, it is essential for them to be vaccinated as soon as possible.

In Malaysia, in January 2021 alone, out of the 289 deaths reported, 87.5 per cent (253 deaths) were individuals who had underlying comorbidities. Majority of them who died had hypertension, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, cardiac-related non-communicable diseases, and dyslipidemia.

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