COVID-19 Vaccine: Safe or Not?
Advice, Healthcare

COVID-19 Vaccine: Safe or Not?

We are currently in one of the world’s greatest pandemics in generations—COVID-19. And we desperately need a solution to end it. Constant hand washing, social distancing and wearing of masks might be effective against contracting COVID-19, yet it is still not foolproof.

With the global fatality toll being 3.24 million, with over 19.3 million active cases, the vaccine seems like a welcome respite from this crisis. However, with health concerns at the forefront of everyone’s minds, it is expected that people would still be cautious before getting the vaccine.

With so much information on the vaccines all over the internet, it is hard to properly digest and understand the risks and benefits associated with taking the vaccine. But fret not! In this post, we will be running through how safe these vaccines truly are, so you can have peace of mind before deciding on taking the vaccine.

COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in Australia

There are currently two vaccines offered in Australia that are selectively administered to patients based on their age. The two vaccines approved for use by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) are the:

  1. Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine
  2. Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine

This means the two vaccines have met TGA’s rigorous standards for vaccines. Hence, they can be trusted on their safety, efficacy and quality.

COVID-19 vaccine
The COVID-19 vaccines available for use in Australia are the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine and the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

How do they work?

The two vaccines approved for use in Australia are significantly different from each other in the way they work. The Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine. Unlike the conventional vaccines containing dead or weakened germs, the mRNA vaccine merely contains a set of instructions (mRNA) to make proteins.

Once injected into the body and after entering the cell, the mRNA is used to make a piece of protein. This piece of protein is harmless and displayed on the surface of the virus causing COVID-19. Our immune systems then recognise the foreign protein and induces an immune response to make antibodies. At the end of this, our bodies have learned how to protect against future infection.

However, the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is a viral vector-based vaccine. This means it is made from a weakened virus, modified to carry genetic material shared by the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Once the vaccine is injected, it will enter the nucleus of the cell. Then, the cell will read the genetic material and make a piece of mRNA. The mRNA is then used to produce a piece of protein. Similar to the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, an immune response is then induced.

The benefit of mRNA vaccines, like all vaccines, is those vaccinated gain this protection without ever having to risk the serious consequences of getting sick with COVID-19.

COVID-19 Vaccine recommendations

Currently, Australia is in Phase 2A of their vaccine rollout, which includes all quarantine and border workers, healthcare workers, aged-care workers and people aged 50 and over. You can check your eligibility and which clinic to visit here.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) recommends the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for adults aged under 50 years.

In people over 50 years old, ATAGI advises the benefits derived from the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine outweighs the associated risks.

This recommendation is based on:

  • the serious consequences of contracting COVID-19 in older adults
  • potentially increased risk of thrombosis with thrombocytopenia following AstraZeneca vaccine in those under 50 years

The COVID-19 AstraZeneca vaccine can be used in adults aged under 50 years in cases where the benefits clearly outweigh the risk. The individual also must have made an informed decision.

Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe and effective?

At the speed of which these vaccines were developed, it is natural to wonder if they are safe to use. However, you need not worry as these vaccines were produced and developed with the highest standard, backed up with multiple clinical trials prove its safety!

For example, the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine trial involved almost 44,000 volunteers with an effectiveness of over 95%. The Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine trial concluded with a 79% efficacy involving approximately 32,000 participants. Both trials also concluded without any report of major side effects.

Accumulated data also illustrates almost complete protection against severe infection like hospitalisation, need for a ventilator, or death.

But what about its side effects?

You might also be worried about the potential side effects you could face after getting the vaccine, and whether they will be of concern.

Common side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines include:

  • soreness at the site of injection
  • fatigue
  • muscle aches
  • fever and chills

Indeed, these do sound rather uncomfortable and worrying. However, scientific research has proven these side effects are actually a good sign your immune response is working well producing antibodies to protect you against the virus!

Additionally, these side effects observed in clinical trials generally resolve within 72 hours of taking the vaccine, and at most lasting up to a week.

What about the new variants?

You must have heard of how the coronavirus is constantly mutating and producing new variations of the virus. Hence, it is natural to wonder whether the current vaccines are actually even remotely useful.

The TGA will also closely investigate as part of their approval and monitoring processes. New mutations may mean people need booster shots regularly, similar to the flu vaccine each year.

Nonetheless, TGA has recommended still getting vaccinated in order to lower the chances of more people being infected. With less people infected, the virus has less chance of mutating and creating even more variations. The current Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has also proven to be 100% effective against the South Africa variant when trialed with 800 volunteers.

COVID-19 vaccine
Both COVID-19 vaccines for use in Australia have proven to be effective against variants of the virus.

COVID-19 Vaccine outside Australia

Other vaccines commonly used outside of Australia are the Moderna mRNA-1273 vaccine and the Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen COVID-19 vaccine. The Moderna mRNA-1273 vaccine had a clinical trial of over 30,000 volunteers reporting an effectiveness of 94%.

Meanwhile, the Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen COVID-19 vaccine trial involved about 45,000 participants and reported an effectiveness of 66% globally.

What the future holds

Moving forward, the best thing you can do is to stay up to date with Australia’s vaccine rollout. Whether you are eligible for the vaccine during the current phase, it is always good to maintain personal hygiene and be COVIDSafe.

While you wait for updates, you can:

  • practise good hygiene
  • maintain physical distance
  • stay home if you are sick and get tested
  • download the COVIDSafe app

While you wait for your vaccine, you can also update and maintain your Medicare details to ensure your smooth vaccination process!

In summary

The COVID-19 crisis is definitely an unexpected and challenging situation to occur. With the development of the vaccine, it seems like a first step back to normality. For people like us, and based on the information above, the decision on whether or not to get vaccinated should be an easy one.

About the author

Besides school and work, Venus spends her free time dancing (she has been a dancer for more than 10 years). She also enjoys spending time just chilling at home and hanging out with her friends.

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