It’s possible that by the end of the third quarter of 2021, Filipinos will finally get their hands on the anticipated COVID-19 vaccine. Over the past few weeks, we’ve watched as the government scrambled to secure doses and assure the public that everyone will get vaccinated in due time. But even though the future looks bright — vaccinations mean finally getting back to a semblance of the new normal, right? — many are still skeptical about these new vaccines. How are they developed so quickly and are they safe? To quell your fears, the World Health Organization (WHO) has answered some of our most pressing questions when it comes to the new COVID-19 vaccines.
Who should get vaccinated first?
WHO recommends that healthcare workers and the older population should be prioritized since our supply of the new COVID-19 vaccines is limited. The former so we can help strengthen our already overwhelmed health services, and the latter so we decrease death and serious diseases as swiftly as we can. Once more vaccines are available, we can proceed with other groups such as essential workers (police officers, public transit workers, teachers, etc.) and then the general public. The goal is to have more and more groups vaccinated as soon as enough supply is made available.
If you can access the vaccine earlier than when it’s made available to the general public (e.g. through private purchase, an employer, etc.), it’s recommended that you get it — provided that the vaccine is safe and effective and you aren’t “jumping ahead” of priority groups.
Who shouldn’t get the vaccine?
Before getting the vaccine (or any medication), you should know your own allergy triggers and allergic reactions whether from previous vaccines, medicine, or food. While there are reports of allergic reactions to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, health experts say that these cases are “extremely rare.”
However, those who have a history of severe allergic reactions (i.e. you need epinephrine or have to go to the hospital after a reaction) should check in with their doctors first to help them decide if it’s safe to get the vaccine. After getting the vaccine, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends observing for 15-30 minutes to see if there are reactions or side effects.
What are the different types of COVID-19 vaccines?
According to WHO, there are ten types of COVID-19 vaccines under development. mRNA vaccine, inactivated vaccine, viral vector vaccine, and protein subunit vaccine are the four leading types. Each one is undergoing rigorous research, peer review, and meticulous clinical trials. It’s not easy for a vaccine to reach the clinical trial stage. Approximately 7 out of 100 vaccines from the lab are considered good enough for clinical trials and once they start clinical trials, almost only 1 out of 5 are considered successful. WHO says that having multiple vaccines in development will help us determine the safest and most effective one.
How do these vaccines work?
The mRNA vaccine (Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna) works by instructing our cells to create a “spike protein” based on the COVID-19 virus. Once our immune system detects it, it will produce antibodies that help build our immune response. Inactivated vaccine (Sinopharm, Sinovac) operates the same way as polio and flu vaccines. Our antigen cells engulf the injected “killed” SARS-CoV-2 cells. This particular vaccine could have a longer production time and might require up to three doses.
With viral vector vaccine (AstraZeneca, Sputnik V, Janssen, Cansino Bio), genetically modified viruses enter our bodies, make spike proteins, and trigger our immune response. The fourth type is the protein subunit vaccine (Novavax, Vector Institute) which introduces harmless protein pieces of SARS-CoV-2 into our bloodstream to be overtaken by our antigen cells.
Are these vaccines safe?
Yes, they are. Our scientists and researchers are able to come up with new vaccine technology that’s backed by years of research and development. The health sector is working round the clock and collaborating with the best people in the industry to create the safest and most effective vaccine. The FDA themselves approved the ones we have available now which have all undergone rigorous clinical trials — no cutting corners! In fact, thousands took part in the largely successful trial tests which further proved the efficacy of our leading vaccines. USA’s Center for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC) and FDA are continuously monitoring all vaccines and are still testing a number of others.
Which vaccine should I get?
We just announced that the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine retains neutralizing activity against emerging variants first identified in the U.K. and the Republic of South Africa. Read more: https://t.co/UCCvX0PrKV pic.twitter.com/nCGl3hfhlU
— Moderna (@moderna_tx) January 25, 2021
No matter what you do or how anxious you are, do not purchase vaccines from unreliable sources. There have been reports of people selling fake and unauthorized COVID-19 vaccines, capitalizing on everyone’s fear. WHO’s top recommendation remains to be Pfizer/BioNTech, but the WHO prequalification team is reviewing 14 more vaccines. The Philippine local government has secured various vaccines, including UK’s AstraZeneca, China’s Sinovac, and US-India’s Novavax.
When can I get vaccinated?
Do I still need to wear a mask after getting vaccinated?
YES. Though vaccines seem to be effective at preventing serious illnesses, we still don’t know how well they curb the spread of the virus. Vaccinated people could still be infected but not develop any symptoms, and unknowingly spread it to other people. Those who get vaccinated still need to follow the health and safety protocols — physical distancing, wearing masks at all times in public, and frequent hand washing.
Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the U.S. said that what we’re hoping for is to achieve “herd immunity,” that is when a high percentage of the population is injected with the vaccine immunizing most to the virus. Once we do this (and that could be years down the line) only then can we walk around freely without face masks.
What are your thoughts on these COVID-19 vaccines?