Are Covid conspiracy theories causing you concern? Want to know if there are side effects to getting the vaccine? Worried it's not safe? There are lots of theories currently floating around, so we thought we’d debunk some of the common myths that are currently circulating around the new COVID-19 vaccine, to separate fact from fiction
After a much-anticipated, year-long wait for the new COVID-19 vaccine, residents in more than 240 aged care facilities across the country will receive their first vaccine dose against COVID-19 this week.
142,000 doses arrived in Australia last week, and of these, it’s expected that 60,000 of those doses will be administered across priority groups and front line workers — including aged care residents, those working in hotel quarantine, emergency departments, at testing clinics and paramedics — across every state and territory, by the end of February, according to Federal Minister for Health and Aged Care, Greg Hunt.
The remaining doses will be administered over the coming weeks and months, with states and territories announcing their Covid rollout plans in several phases.
But as the vaccine is slowly introduced to the nation, there are a number of unanswered questions as to how the vaccine actually works, whether it’s safe, and when the rest of the population can expect to receive theirs.
Here we answer all your burning questions, separating fact from fiction.
How does the Covid vaccine work?
Created by Pfizer and its German-based partner BioNTech, the new Covid vaccine has been developed using a new approach that uses messenger RNA or mRNA.
Messenger RNA is a single strand of the genetic code that cells can “read” and use to make a protein. They used this because the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has spikes of protein on each viral particle. These spike proteins allow the virus to attach to cells and cause disease. In the case of this vaccine, the mRNA instructs the muscle cells in the arm to make the particular piece of the virus’s spike protein. The immune system then sees it, recognises it as foreign and is prepared to attack when actual infection occurs.
So, the aim of the vaccine is to find a way to safely introduce that protein into the body in a form that stimulates an immune response. The idea is that the body detects the genetic material and new protein as foreign, and mounts an immune response — producing antibodies that learn to remember and fight the virus if the body encounters it again.
The vaccine will protect a person by lowering their chances of getting COVID-19 if they encounter the coronavirus. If you’ve already had COVID-19 and recovered, you may have some natural immunity to contracting the disease again. However because this virus is new, it’s not clear how long natural immunity might last.
Who will receive the vaccine first?
The priority population — those in regional and rural aged care facilities and frontline at-risk health care workers — are due to receive the first roll out of vaccinations in every state and territory.
In a statement from Minister Hunt, he confirmed that this first roll out is expected to take about 6 weeks. The remaining vaccinations will be rolled out in several stages. To see the full list, visit the health.gov.au website.
Healthcare Australia will provide the vaccination workforce in New South Wales and Queensland, while Aspen Medical will be responsible for the other states and territories.
In New South Wales (NSW), Premier Gladys Berejikilan has confirmed that about 35,000 frontline workers – including those working in hotel quarantine, emergency departments, at testing clinics and paramedics – will receive the Pfizer vaccine from 22 February.
Tasmanians aged 18 and over will be able to get vaccinated for free by the end of October 2021. In South Australia, the Royal Adelaide Hospital will be the first hub to deliver the Pfizer vaccine to the first round of priority groups. During later phases, every public hospital across the state will be involved in the vaccine roll-out.
In the Northern Territory, Chief Minister Michael Gunner said the territory government expected to deliver vaccinations to about 3,000 people as part of Phase 1a, with the Commonwealth anticipated to cover an additional 1,500 aged care residents and workers.
Over the coming weeks, the vaccination program will reach more than 2,600 RACFs, more than 183,000 residents and 339,000 staff
Why should I get it?
Vaccination is the most effective way to protect against infectious diseases.
The COVD-19 vaccine strengthens your immune system by training it to recognise and fight against the COVID-19 viruses. When you get vaccinated, you’re protecting yourself and helping to protect others. If you don’t get yourself immunised, you could be putting vulnerable communities at risk.
Should I be concerned?
Although we now understand how the COVID-19 vaccine works, conspiracy theories are rising and causing concern amongst many communities, discouraging people from getting immunised altogether.
So to help, we’ve come up with a list of myth busters that will answer all your questions.
Myth #1: The vaccines aren’t safe because they were developed quickly
Although it’s true that the vaccine was created in a short period of time, the safety and efficacy of the vaccine has not been compromised.
Vaccine technology is not exactly new — most of the population will be familiar, if not immunised already, with the standard flu vaccine. Scientists have also been researching coronaviruses such as SARS, MERs etc, prior to the coronavirus pandemic. This previous research has enabled them to utilise knowledge gained from these studies to develop the new vaccine.
The urgency and the sheer immense effort from the team involved in processing this new drug has enabled quicker clinical trials and safety testing, leading to a quicker rollout and approval.
Normally when a new vaccine is developed, it takes a long time to recruit volunteers to test its safety and efficacy. However, due to the high volume of cases in the UK and US, there were tens of thousands of volunteers coming forward. This allowed scientists to observe the effectiveness in the population much more quickly, as well as testing the safety of the medicine.
Myth 2: We don’t need the vaccine because the recovery rate from COVID-19 is high and natural immunity is better
Most people do not get seriously sick when they’re infected with COVID-19. There have, however, been many severe cases that have caused a significant number of deaths.
Older people are more susceptible to COVID-19 and more likely to become seriously ill. But as the virus mutates to different strains (like we’ve seen in the UK, South Africa, US etc.), some younger people have also been put at risk.
There’s a lack of evidence showing how long natural immunity lasts if you get sick from COVID-19, and then recover naturally. Immunity (both natural and vaccine mediated immunity) may vary depending on the person. More research needs to be done in this area to fully understand this.
The safest way to be protected is to have the COVID-19 vaccine if it’s offered to you.
Myth 3: You’ll get COVID-19 if you have the vaccine
No, this isn‘t possible because the vaccines do not include the live COVID-19 virus.
There are different types of vaccine available. They all work by training our immune system to recognise the COVID-19 virus and then fight it off.
Like any vaccine, the COVID-19 vaccination can cause side effects, but most are mild and short-term. The most common side effects are listed below (myth #6).
Myth 4: The COVID-19 vaccines will alter your DNA
None of the vaccines will alter your DNA.
Two of the vaccines — the Pfizer mRNA vaccine and the Moderna vaccine — use a new technology, which is why this myth is making the rounds. This vaccine works by giving your cells a set of instructions to make a new bit of the COVID-19 virus, called the spike protein.
Your immune system then spots the spike protein as something foreign in the body, and starts an immune response against it. mRNA never enters the nucleus, where your own DNA is.
The great thing about mRNA vaccines is that they don’t contain any live parts of COVID-19 and can be produced quickly in a lab.
Myth 5: I don't need to get a COVID-19 vaccine because I’ve already had COVID-19 and recovered
Reinfection is definitely a possibility. There have been some cases overseas where a patient has contracted COVID-19 a second time. Doctors are still recommending everyone to get the vaccine even if you’ve had the virus already.
Research is still being done to find out how long this natural immunity lasts as it may vary depending on the person. Scientists are monitoring this closely and in time we’ll know more about how long both natural and vaccine mediated immunity lasts.
Myth 6: The COVID-19 vaccines cause severe symptoms in most people
Like any vaccine, the COVID-19 vaccine can cause side effects, but most are mild and short-term. The most common side effects include:
- A painful or tender arm for a couple of days, where the vaccine was injected
- Feeling tired
- Having a headache
- Some muscle aches
These side effects don’t usually last more than a few days to a week. If you need to, you can take a painkiller such as paracetamol to relieve any side effects.
Between 1 and 3 in 10 people get a slight fever after having the vaccination. Keep in mind that a high fever could mean you have another infection or have COVID-19 that you caught before or around the time of the vaccination, before the vaccine had time to kick in. Some people have more severe side effects that affect their ability to carry out normal daily activities. If you feel unwell or are worried, it’s a good idea to speak to a healthcare professional.
A small number of people have had a severe allergic reaction from the COVID-19 vaccine. This is called anaphylaxis. This is a very rare side effect that usually happens within the first 15 minutes of administering the vaccine. Healthcare professionals giving the vaccine will be able to treat the anaphylaxis immediately if you experience this allergic reaction.
Myth 7: I will always test positive for COVID-19 after being vaccinated
There are two different types of COVID-19 tests used at the moment.
One type of test is used to find out if you currently have the virus (such as an antigen or PCR test). The COVID-19 vaccines will not give you a positive result with this type of test, as it only assesses whether you currently have COVID-19.
The other type of COVID-19 test, known as an antibody test, shows whether you’ve been infected with the virus in the past.
A positive antibody test means that your immune system responded to the virus when you were sick. An immune response gives you at least some level of protection against COVID-19. Because the aim of the COVID-19 vaccination is to trigger an immune response that prevents you from getting infected with the virus in the future, it’s possible that you may have a positive antibody test. However, experts are still exploring how the COVID-19 vaccination will affect this type of test result.
Myth 8: I can choose which vaccine to get
Most Australians will receive the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is much easier to distribute. The AstraZeneca vaccine was developed in partnership with Oxford University, and Australia signed supply orders for the drug months ago. The main benefit of this vaccine is that it’s being manufactured in Australia, so most of the supply is secured.
Pfizer's vaccine is based on mRNA technology, which has not been successfully manufactured or distributed locally before. Australia is still unable to produce mRNA vaccines, so it’s relying on international manufacturers to create this shot.
The government is yet to determine who gets which vaccine, so it’s unclear at this stage whether you’ll be able to make a choice. The recent approval of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, however, means that this will be the main jab given to Australians.
Myth 9: I don’t need to get the COVID-19 vaccine if I get the flu vaccine
Unfortunately, these two viruses are different, which means that you’ll need to get both vaccines to be protected from the strains of viruses they are made for. There’s no evidence that these vaccines crossover to protect against both illnesses.
The good news is that cases of the common flu has significantly decreased over the last 12 months due to social distancing, good hygiene and wearing of masks.
Myth 10: The COVID-19 vaccine is not suitable for kids
This is probably one of the most controversial issues.
More evidence-based on clinical trials data will be the only way for the TGA (Therapeutic Goods of Australia) to approve the use of the vaccine in children under the age of 16 years old.
Children under the age of 16 have been placed in to Phase 3 of the Vaccine Rollout strategy only if recommended by their Health Care Professional.
Myth 11: Can a business deny service to those who choose not to get the COVID-19 vaccine?
In short, the answer is yes. Private businesses are legally able to deny or refuse service to the unimmunised.
However, the government has not yet made the vaccine a mandatory requirement. The rollout of the vaccine will take at least 6-12 months for the majority of the Australian population to be immunised. This means, at this stage, businesses will not have the option to deny people access.
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