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How do we know Covid vaccines are safe?

Colin Dang

How do we know Covid vaccines are safe?

Over 12 million people in the UK have already had their first dose of either the Oxford-AstraZeneca or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Globally the figure of vaccinations stands at over 128 million people at the time of writing, which is an amazing feat in such a short space of time.

 Both vaccines are extremely safe, with a small number of people having mild side effects. All of the medical trials and real-world experiences so far suggest the vaccines are safe and effective.


How do we know a vaccine is safe?

Before human trials start there are safety tests carried out on cells and animals. If the safety data from the labs is good then scientists can check the vaccine or treatment is effective too. Trials for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine involved over 40,000 volunteers. Half are given the vaccine and the other half a placebo. 

The Covid vaccine trials happened far quicker than usual, mostly due to the vast funding poured in and the global efforts. Safety has not been compromised, the same strict processes were gone through as with vaccines such as rubella, flu or TB.


Will the vaccine give me side effects?

The vaccine does not contain the live virus, only harmless elements from it and taking it will boost your immunity against Covid . It does this by giving your immune system a head-start on what might be coming, then if you do get Covid your body will know what to do.

Some people do have mild symptoms after being vaccinated. This is not the disease itself, but the body's response to the vaccine . The most common side effect reported has been localised soreness close to the injection site. 

 Common reactions typically get better within days and include:

  • sore arm
  • headache
  • chills
  • tiredness
  • feeling sick
  • fever
  • dizziness
  • weakness
  • aching muscles

In the UK, people can report concerns after having the vaccine to the MHRA's Yellow Card scheme.The ones received so far (affecting around three in every 1,000 people vaccinated) reveal no unexpected serious reactions.


Who has approved the vaccine?

Approval in the UK can only be given once the MHRA (Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency ), is happy that a vaccine is safe and effective.

Checks continue after approval to make sure there are no further side effects or long-term risks. Independent experts on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation decide who should get it and how best to use it.


What's in the Covid vaccines?

Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine (and Moderna's) uses bits of genetic code to cause an immune response, and is called an mRNA vaccine. This doesn’t alter human cells, it gives the body instructions to build immunity to Covid.The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine uses a harmless virus altered to look a lot more like the pandemic virus.


What about allergies?

Allergic reactions to vaccines are rare however as a precaution the MHRA have said that people with a history of serious allergic reactions should not take this vaccine. Be aware that anti-vaccine stories are spread online through social media. These posts are not based on scientific advice.


What if I've already had Covid?

People will still be offered the jab even if they have had Covid. This is because natural immunity may not last long and immunisation could offer more protection.

People who are currently unwell with Covid shouldn’t be vaccinated until they’ve recovered but guidance says there are no safety concerns about giving jabs to people with long Covid.


How animal-friendly are vaccines and do they contain alcohol?

The Covid vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca do not contain any material of animal origin. The British Islamic Medical Association says there is negligible alcohol in it - no more than in bread, for example.


If everyone else gets vaccinated do I need to bother?

There is overwhelming scientific evidence that vaccination is the best defence against serious infections. Covid vaccines can stop people getting very sick and save lives. They give us a path through the pandemic and offer hope. MHRA chief executive Dr June Raine said: "Safety is our watchword. It is vital that people continue to get their jab when they get the invitation."


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The Coda Pharmacy Team

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