What can we expect from the Covid-19 vaccine

by Dr Marie Scully, Abbey Road Medical Centre

The Covid vaccine being rolled out to the over 70 age group will be one of two mRNA vaccines – Pfizer or Moderna. This is because the data for the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine was limited for the older age groups.

In Navan both Abbey House and Bedford surgeries have received Pfizer vaccines for distribution so let’s have a look at this vaccine and the common questions about it.

Comirnaty is the name given to this vaccine which is manufactured by Pfizer/BioNtech. It is a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine. This is a new type of vaccine although the technology has been around for a long time. The vaccine contains RNA which is a piece of genetic material which instructs the body to create a “spike protein” found on the surface of the virus which causes Covid-19. The RNA is then broken down and is eradicated from the body. Once the spike protein is made the body’s cells recognise this as foreign and makes antibodies to it. This then protects from future infections with the virus.

Currently vaccination is in 2 doses, 4 weeks apart. It is given as an injection, usually into the upper arm. You will receive a vaccine card on your first visit which will be completed on your second visit.

How effective is it? The Pfizer vaccine is very effective at preventing infection, with new data showing effectiveness of almost 90% two weeks after the first vaccine and this rises to 95% a week after the second dose.

Can it affect my DNA? No it can’t – the mRNA never enter the cell nucleus where the DNA is kept.

Can the vaccine give me Covid-19? No it can’t – the vaccine does not contain any virus and therefore cannot give you Covid-19.

Is it safe? The Pfizer vaccine has been shown to be very safe. There is an extremely small chance of an allergic reaction (2 per million) and this is the reason you will be asked to wait for 15 minutes in the surgery after having the vaccine. You should inform your GP if you have had any severe allergic reaction to any previous vaccine.

What are the side effects? Side effects of the vaccine are commoner after the second dose and in younger age groups. Common side effects are: pain redness or swelling at the injection site, fatigue, headache or muscle pains, fever or chills. These tend to be short lived and last 24-48 hours. You can take Paracetemol to help with the symptoms. Call your GP if they last longer than 3 days. You can report side effects to the national reporting system at www.hpra.ie.

What about the new variants? There have been mutations in the virus since the pandemic started, with a UK variant becoming dominant since before Christmas and contributing to the increased numbers of cases. More recently variants from South Africa and Brazil have been discovered. These variants have changes in the virus spike protein which make it more infectious. These changes may also make the vaccines somewhat less effective and work is ongoing by the vaccine manufacturers to investigate this, and whether a booster dose of an updated vaccine may be required. The vaccines should still provide protection against severe illness or death however.

How do I arrange to get the vaccine if I am over 70? You will be contacted by your GP to inform you as to when and where you will get the vaccine.

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