COVID-19 Vaccination Update

Dr Peter Smith from Clifton Beach Medical and Surgical discusses important information about the COVID-19 Vaccine.

 

Video Transcription Below.

Dr Peter Smith, MBBS.FRACGP.Dip.DERM.(Aus)MSCCA.MTACM.

I would like to talk to you today about the new COVID-19 vaccination. You may recall, over a year ago I was talking to you in the middle of the pandemic, when there were numerous shutdowns, there was doom and gloom in our community and indeed a lot of panic. Well i’m pleased to say today there is now light at the end of the tunnel and this is in the form of an immunisation.

You might ask the question, “why should we immunise?”

Firstly, we should immunise to protect you and your loved ones from serious disease and death from this serious virus. Secondly, it’s important that most Australians vaccinate against this disease because without this we will have continuing rolling stoppages, restrictions, inability to travel and more importantly disconnection from family and loved ones. This is not sustainable for our society or for the world and we must do something about it and this is in the form of immunisation.

Development of the vaccine

I would also like to pay particular attention to the clever scientists in Australia and throughout the world who have developed this most incredible vaccination. It’s interesting that in time with concerted energy, money and motivation that we’ve been able to achieve this amazing goal. And this is not unique, if you look through history, when man has been challenged, particularly scientists, we have been able to achieve amazing feats. For example, the moon landing in the 1960s, President Kennedy stated that he wanted to land a man on the moon within the decade and even though they had primitive technology, with money, science and motivation they were able to achieve it. And it’s with that particular principle that we’ve been able to achieve this vaccine today.

Production or development of this vaccination

Some people say that, “this immunisation process has been too short,” but indeed there has been no shortcuts in the production or development of this vaccination. They have been able to achieve this in several different ways. Firstly, they’ve been able to change the way that we actually trial vaccinations. So, the traditional way was to do what we call longitudinal studies which means that you would do phase one, phase two, phase three, one after the other. In this process what they’ve been up to do is, do phase one and then parallel it and overlap it with phase two and then phase three and so on. This has greatly shortened the time that it’s taken to achieve the results in the trials. Also, they’ve been able to ramp up the production in vaccine manufacture which has been done in advance in anticipation for the vaccine to be developed and this again has also shortened the process. It’s important to realise that there was 181 vaccines that started on the journey and only, at the moment, two are being used in Australia. There are 12 immunisations that have been approved throughout the world. So, this has been no shortcut and there’s been amazing science involved in the process. Firstly, this vaccine is incredibly safe. More than 400 million doses have been given throughout the world, to date, and it has been shown to be very effective and very safe.

It’s important to realise that the vaccine was developed with a lot of science and safety in mind

I’d like to spend a few minutes explaining how this works. In front of me is a replica of the COVID-19 virus. Just a crude replica, but as you can notice there are significant features and the most significant feature is this thing called the spike protein. The scientists have very cleverly realised that this is the most vulnerable part of the virus and they’ve developed vaccines which have been able to duplicate this particular protein sequence and when this vaccine is injected into a person it tricks the immune system into making these spike proteins and therefore stimulating our immune system to make antibodies to these spikes. So, when the real virus comes along, these antibodies attach and effectively reduce the effects and destroy the virus. In this way you are not getting a live virus vaccination. There is no way that you can get infection from the immunisation. It has no effect apart from producing these spike proteins and therefore no effect on the actual cells in the body apart from that.

Dosing of each vaccine

The dosing of the vaccines are slightly different, the AstraZeneca vaccine, which most Australians will get, is actually dosed with one dose, followed by the second at 12 weeks. The Pfizer vaccine, which is mainly being rolled out for high risk, border protection people, hospital staff etc, they will have a vaccine which will be then followed up by three weeks later the second dose.

Vaccine Side Effects

With all things in medicine there are always side effects; with medications, with immunisations and procedures and there are some common side effects that you need to be aware of with this vaccination. These are tenderness at the site of the injection, maybe some warmth, an itch also at the site of injection. Headache, fatigue, malaise, fever and chills, joint and muscle aches, and nausea. There are some rare occasions where there’s been some severe allergy reactions and anaphylaxis but these are extremely rare and these can be mitigated by answering questionnaires before you have your immunisation. It’s also important to realise that these side effects are not actually directly due to the immunisation, they are more related to your body’s response to the vaccination. For example, when you get an influenza virus you get aches and pains and fevers and chills, not because of the virus but more so due to your body’s response to the virus. When it releases things like cytokines which have these side effects in your system and so therefore when you do get these symptoms it does show that you are getting a good immune response to the vaccination; an important message.

Important questions to answer prior to your vaccination

Before you have your immunisation there will be a checklist that we need to go through to minimise potential reactions or confusion regarding the immunisation process. It is vitally important that you well understand these questions in advance so we can answer any queries that you may have before you have the vaccination.

These questions might include:

  • Have you already had a COVID-19 vaccination?
  • Which one and when was it given?
  • Did you have a reaction to your previous COVID vaccination, especially anaphylaxis?
  • Have you ever had anaphylaxis to any past vaccination?
  • Have you received any other vaccines in the last 14 days?
  • Are you unwell?
  • Do you have respiratory symptoms or do you have a temperature, particularly over 38 degrees?
  • Have you had any anaphylaxis or severe allergies to anything in the past? This is particularly important as we will hold these people back for further observation after their immunisation.
  • Do you have any bleeding disorders and what treatments are you on?
  • Are you pregnant, breastfeeding or planning to be pregnant?
  • Are you immunocompromised? That is, are you taking medications that suppress your immune system
  • and finally, have you recently had COVID-19 and convalescing?

It’s important that you consider these messages and questions because they will help guide you through a smooth vaccination process.

Myths and Frequently Asked Questions about the COVID-19 Vaccination

Now there are common questions that people might ask about COVID vaccination and i’m going to go through some of the simple questions and answers and myths about COVID immunisation.

If i’m pregnant can I get the vaccine?

The current guidelines suggest that we are not immunising pregnant women across the board but there are circumstances where some women may be immunised. There is no contraindication for immunising pregnant women or breastfeeding women, the restriction mainly relates to very few studies that have been done on these people and we are not sure whether safety has perfectly been established and we are acting with caution. This also occurs with people under the age of 18, not because we were concerned that the vaccine will have side effects, we just do not have the data on teenagers and children.

How long will I be protected for?

This is still unknown but it’s believed that at least 12 months and probably longer particularly if we look at the response of previous vaccines that we have rolled out in the past.

Do I need to wear a mask and socially distance after I’ve had the vaccination?

And the answer is yes. Until we have herd immunity in our community we do not want people to not follow the guidelines of social distancing, mask wearing etc.

If I have an underlying condition, can I still get vaccinated?

And in most circumstances, yes you can, but this is a discussion that you have to have with your doctor to make this correct decision.

Has there been enough testing for this vaccine to be safe?

And I think we’ve adequately answered that question. Yes, there’s been enormous amount of work, probably the most studied vaccine in history and I think that it is safe.

Does the COVID-19 Vaccine change your DNA?

It does not change your DNA in any way. It is cleverly designed not to interfere with the cell’s function apart from producing that spike protein.

Is there egg protein in the vaccine?

There is no egg protein in this vaccination.

Does it make women infertile?

It does not make women infertile.

Where can you get your vaccine?

My recommendation is that you go to your local GP. This is an important process because that GP will know your history well, will know your medications and know your history analogies and this is the first port of call.

Do I have to pay for the vaccination?

It will not cost you any money to have the vaccination and the rollout will commence sometime in April.

It’s important to have these messages. Be educated. Be bold. Protect your family and your loved ones and do it for Australia.