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Six things you should know about COVID-19 vaccines

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COVID-19 vaccines have been called a ‘game-changer because of their potential to save many lives and end the disruption caused by the pandemic. There’s been a lot of false information going around, so it’s natural to have some questions. Here, we put the record straight with the key things you need to know.

1. COVID-19 vaccines are just as safe as other vaccines.

There has been some confusion about how the new vaccines have been developed and rolled out so quickly when usually the process takes years. The fact is that the COVID-19 vaccines currently in use have all been through the same rigorous safety testing as any other vaccine before being approved for use.

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To start saving as many lives as quickly as possible, the process for COVID-19 vaccine development has been ‘fast-tracked. This has mainly meant speeding up paperwork, securing funding, or carrying out these steps at the same time as developing the science behind the vaccines. At no point have any of the strict clinical and safety standards required to make sure vaccines are safe for use been ignored or carried out to a lower standard.

2. The risk of having serious side effects from COVID-19 vaccines is very low

Some people get mild side effects after having the vaccine such as a sore arm, feeling tired, headaches, achy muscles, or feeling or being sick. These will only last for a few days and are usually nothing to worry about, but if your symptoms get worse or you are worried for any reason, it’s best to call your health care provider.

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In extremely rare cases, some people have developed blood clots after having certain types of COVID-19 vaccines (AstraZeneca/Oxford and Johnson & Johnson). To put this into context, in Europe, where most of these cases were reported, it’s estimated that one person in every 100,000 people who have the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine develops blood clots. However, people can get blood clots naturally, and this is in line with the number of people we would expect to see within the general population.

More work is being done to understand this, but the benefits of getting vaccinated – protecting people from becoming very sick and dying from COVID-19 – are considered to outweigh the relatively very small risk of getting blood clots.

3. The COVID-19 vaccines are safe for people living with HIV

People living with HIV have been included in safety trials for many of the COVID-19 vaccines, and so far, all results show that the vaccines are safe for people with HIV. Likewise, there is nothing to suggest that the vaccine will affect how well antiretroviral treatment for HIV works.

If you are living with HIV, it’s especially important for you to get vaccinated because there is some evidence that your risk of getting seriously ill from COVID-19 may be higher. In some countries, vaccines are being prioritized for people living with HIV, so check with your health care provider to see when you’re able to have the vaccine.

4. It is safe to have sex after having a COVID-19 vaccine

However, check the restrictions in your area before meeting up with anyone you don’t live with for sex. As we are still learning whether you can pass COVID-19 on after having the vaccine, it’s important to follow preventative measures to avoid passing the virus on. And remember, you’ll need to use a condom to prevent sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy.

5. COVID-19 vaccines are safe if you are pregnant, or want to have children

There’s nothing to suggest that having a COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy will harm you or your baby. Getting vaccinated during pregnancy will help protect you from getting seriously ill with COVID-19. Vaccines are now being offered to pregnant women in some countries, depending on their plans for roll-out. It’s best to check the availability in your area and talk to your health care worker about your options if you are pregnant.

There is no evidence that having any of the COVID-19 vaccines can affect your chances of having children, for both men and women. It’s safe to get a COVID-19 vaccine if you are trying to have a baby, or thinking about having one in the future.

6. So far, it appears the vaccines still work against virus variants

More work is being done to understand this, but early studies have shown that the current COVID-19 vaccines will still give you some protection against new virus variants, especially from getting seriously ill or dying.

Researchers are confident that it’s fairly straightforward to tweak the vaccines so they can protect against new variants, if necessary. Vaccine manufacturers are also in the process of developing ‘booster’ shots to help protect against variants in the future.

Are there any side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine?

Like any vaccine, COVID-19 vaccines can cause mild, short term side effects, such as a low-grade fever or pain or redness at the injection site. Most reactions to vaccines are mild and go away within a few days on their own. More serious or long-lasting side effects to vaccines are possible but extremely rare

Is it safe to take paracetamol before receiving the COVID-19 vaccine?

Taking painkillers such as paracetamol before receiving the COVID-19 vaccine to prevent side effects are not recommended. This is because it is not known how painkillers may affect how well the vaccine works.

Who should not take the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine

People with a history of severe allergic reaction to any component of the vaccine should not take it.

The vaccine is not recommended for persons younger than 18 years of age pending the results of further studies.

How old do you have to be to get the AstraZeneca vaccine?

The vaccine is not recommended for persons younger than 18 years of age pending the results of further studies

What are the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health?

Bereavement, isolation, loss of income, and fear are triggering mental health conditions or exacerbating existing ones. Many people may be facing increased levels of alcohol and drug use, insomnia, and anxiety.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 itself can lead to neurological and mental complications, such as delirium, agitation, and stroke. People with pre-existing mental, neurological, or substance use disorders are also more vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2 infection ? they may stand a higher risk of severe outcomes and even death.

How long does it take for symptoms of the coronavirus disease to appear?

On average it takes 5–6 days from when someone is infected with the virus for symptoms to the show, however, it can take up to 14 days.

Can people with mild COVID-19 symptoms recover at home?

People with mild symptoms who are otherwise healthy should manage their symptoms at home. On average it takes 5–6 days from when someone is infected with the virus for symptoms to show, however it can take up to 14 days.

Can COVID-19 spread in hot and humid climates?

From the evidence so far, the COVID-19 virus can be transmitted in ALL AREAS, including areas with hot and humid weather. Regardless of climate, adopt protective measures if you live in, or travel to an area reporting COVID-19. The best way to protect yourself against COVID-19 is by frequently cleaning your hands.

When was COVID-19 first identified?

On 31 December 2019, WHO was informed of cases of pneumonia of unknown cause in Wuhan City, China. A novel coronavirus was identified as the cause by Chinese authorities on 7 January 2020 and was temporarily named “2019-nCoV”.

How to take care of one’s physical and mental health during coronavirus pandemic?

During this difficult time, it’s important to continue looking after your physical and mental health. This will not only help you in the long-term, it will also help you fight COVID-19 if you get it.

First, eat a healthy and nutritious diet, which helps your immune system to function properly. Second, limit your alcohol consumption, and avoid sugary drinks. Third, don’t smoke. Smoking can increase your risk of developing a severe disease if you become infected with COVID-19. Fourth, exercise.

For further information send email to [email protected], send only text messages to 002207774469 WHATSAPP from 3 to 6PM.

Dr Hassan Azadeh, senior lecturer at the University of The Gambia, clinical director at Medicare Health Services.

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