At last, safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines are available and with vaccinations officially underway in the US, UK and some other parts around the world.
There is palpable relief as a result of this because there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel, even as coronavirus cases and deaths continue to rise globally.
But even though vaccines can prevent illness from the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, there are still some unanswered questions. Below are some basic information that every Nigerian should know about the Covid-19 vaccines.
What vaccines are available now?
A vaccine is generally made up of a weakened or a dead virus, which, once injected, prompts the body to fight off the invader and build immunity. Both Pfizer and BioNTech and Moderna’s candidate vaccines have been manufactured using mRNA-based technology, a relatively new way to make vaccines.
What makes these vaccines special?
Pfizer’s vaccine was authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in people 16 and older, making it the first coronavirus vaccine approved for public use.
Moderna’s vaccine is also close to approval. Both vaccines have been found to be highly effective at preventing COVID-19 in clinical trial participants.
Instead of injecting a deactivated form of the virus, the mRNA vaccine uses a component of the virus DNA called messenger RNA that basically enables the immune system to recognise and respond if the virus enters the body.
When your body confronts the real virus, the antibodies and the cells can recognise it and can kill it faster.
How long will protection last?
Data from the clinical trials show that Pfizer’s vaccine, which is 95 per cent effective, can offer partial protection as early as 12 days after the first dose.
That protection can last for at least two months,a second dose is then required to achieve the vaccine’s full potential.
A second dose given 21 days later acts as booster for the immune response, offering protection starting one week after the second jab.
The Moderna vaccine candidate is reputed to mount protective antibody levels within two weeks of the first dose and last for at least three months. It also requires a second shot, and has shown to be 94 per cent effective. Long-term immune response is still under study.
Can the vaccines prevent the spread of coronavirus?
Yes. The vaccines are typically designed to prevent people from getting sick with the virus, but it is not yet clear if the COVID-19 vaccines by Pfizer or Moderna can stop transmission of the virus to other people. This is why it is important to continue taking precautions — physical distancing, wearing masks and avoiding gatherings, especially in poorly-ventilated spaces.
From experience with past vaccinations, the more people are immunised, the better the chances of reaching herd immunity
Who should be vaccinated?
Everyone should be vaccinated to ensure effectiveness of the vaccine. At least 70 to 75 per cent of the population will have to be immunised to control the spread of the virus. The effectiveness of the vaccines can only be as good as the number of people who get them.
People at highest risk of severe disease or death should be vaccinated first so that the outbreak goes down and there is herd immunity. This includes people older than 60 and those with underlying health conditions. Health care workers and essential workers are also considered as priority groups for vaccination.
Are the vaccines safe?
There are no major safety concerns uncovered in the FDA’s review of Pfizer’s vaccine. An FDA analysis showed that some clinical trial participants did experience mild to moderate side effects after receiving the shot, including injection site pain, fever, fatigue, headache, muscle pain and joint pain. These symptoms are temporary and are in line with side effects some people experience from other vaccines,
What are the challenges?
All vaccines will be ordered through the manufacturers and much of the vaccine manufacturing and stockpiling has happened at the same time as late-stage clinical trials so that the medicine is ready to roll out to the public.
Ensuring proper transportation and storage for the vaccines is part of this planning process. Both the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines require cold storage at specific temperatures — Pfizer’s more so than Moderna’s — meaning pharmacies and clinics will need to be equipped with specialized freezers and refrigerators to keep the medicines stable.
How much will the vaccines cost?
Vaccine providers will be able to charge an administration fee for giving the shot, but this fee should be covered by public or private insurance, or by government relief fund.
Do you need the vaccine if you already had COVID-19?
The verdict is still out when it comes to how long you are protected from COVID-19 after a previous infection — what’s referred to as natural immunity. In fact, “early evidence suggests natural immunity from COVID-19 may not last very long. Because of this, people may be advised to get a COVID-19 vaccine even if they have been sick with COVID-19 before.