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COVID-19 Vaccination 101

News
13 June 2021
While the vaccine doesn’t prevent you from contracting COVID-19, the chances of you developing severe, life-threatening symptoms are greatly reduced.
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As South Africa officially enters a third wave of COVID-19 infections, the drive to vaccinate as many citizens as possible ramps up. We answer some of your burning questions about the vaccine and explain what you can expect on the day you get your jab.

What is a vaccine?

In simple terms, a vaccine contains weakened or inactive parts of a particular virus (in this case COVID-19) which, when injected, trigger an immune response in the body. This response, in turn, causes the body to develop memory cells and antibodies which will help you fight off COVID-19 more effectively in future. Essentially, it trains your body’s defences to better fight off the infection.

I keep hearing about herd immunity…

It’s a common term we’ve all come across in recent months, but what does it actually mean? When a lot of people are vaccinated, it’s more difficult for the virus to spread because the majority of the population is already immune to it.

Why are vaccines important?

While the vaccine doesn’t prevent you from contracting COVID-19, the chances of you developing severe, life-threatening symptoms are greatly reduced. But a majority-vaccinated community also helps to protect those who can’t get vaccinated due to allergies or certain health conditions.

REMEMBER: being immune to COVID-19 does not mean you can’t get infected. It just limits your chances of getting seriously ill.

How do we know the vaccines are safe?

Before any COVID-19 vaccine can be administered to the public, several steps need to be followed to ensure the vaccine is safe and effective against the virus.

  • Large clinical trials are conducted on volunteers to determine the safety of the vaccine while also noting any potential side-effects. These trials consist of tens of thousands of volunteers.
  • Several independent reviews of the clinical trial results are done to ensure the data is correct.
  • Evidence put together during the clinical trials as well as the independent reviews are then processed to determine how the vaccine should be administered.
  • The clinical trial results are then sent to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) expert panel called the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) to analyse the results.
  • Should SAGE approve the results, the panel will then issue further instructions on how the vaccine should be administered.
  • Expert officials – in South Africa’s case the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) – analyse all the data and decides whether to approve the vaccine for use.

Will the vaccine alter my DNA?

No. A common misconception is that mRNA vaccines (Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines currently) will change your genetic makeup once injected. mRNA vaccines – which serve as tiny messengers which deliver instructions on how to fight off the infection – never enter the nucleus of a cell, the part that contains your DNA. It can, therefore, not interact with your DNA nor change it. Once the vaccine has been injected, the mRNA is broken down inside the body. For more info on mRNA vaccines you can CLICK HERE.

Which vaccines are being administered in South Africa?

Currently, vaccines from Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer-BioNTech are being administered. The following vaccines are still in clinical trial phase: - Novavax - ReiThera (aka GRAd-COV2) - ImmunityBio

When will I get the jab?

The vaccines will be rolled out in three phases, starting with the most vulnerable members of the population: - PHASE 1: an estimated 1.2 million frontline workers. This phase has largely been completed. - PHASE 2: persons over the age of 60. - PHASE 3: the final phase will target the remaining adult population.

What about children?

While some countries have approved the use of the Pfizer vaccine for children 12 years and older, there is currently no approved vaccine for children in South Africa.

How do I register?

Government has launched the Electronic Vaccination Data System (EVDS) where individuals can register for the vaccine. Once registered, you will receive an SMS with the date and location of your vaccination.

NOTE: The Pfizer vaccine requires you to get two injections six weeks apart. You will receive a second SMS once you can go back for your second jab.

Will I have to pay for the vaccine?

No. If you have health insurance, your medical aid will cover the costs. If you don’t have medical aid, the vaccine is paid for by government.

Can I choose where I want to get vaccinated?

No. You have to go to the vaccine site indicated in the SMS you received. Currently, no walk-ins are allowed at vaccination sites unless the individual is 80 years or older.

What to expect on vaccination day

  • You will need to provide proof of your online registration and booking as well as proof of identity and your medical aid card on the day.
  • You will be monitored for 15 to 30 minutes to ensure you don’t experience serious side-effects.
  • Once vaccinated, you will receive a vaccination card indicating the date of the vaccination and the type of vaccine you were given.

The next few days

Mild side-effects are not uncommon. Since your body has been introduced to an inactive version of the virus, you might experience some flu-like symptoms a day or so after the vaccination. Some side-effects to expect:

  • Pain, swelling or redness at the site of the injections
  • Chills and/or fever
  • Feeling tired
  • Mild headache
  • Muscle and joint pain

If you experience any of the following side-effects, contact your doctor immediately:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling of the face or throat
  • An increased heartrate
  • Sudden dizziness and general weakness
  • A skin rash - Leg pain or swelling (could indicate a blood clot)
  • A severe headache that doesn’t go away
  • Blurred vision, vomiting and/or difficulty speaking
  • Severe abdominal pain

For more info and the latest vaccination and COVID-19 stats, you can visit the Department of Health’s official COVID-19 website.

Sources: Department of Health | National Institute for Communicable Diseases