Covid-19 vaccines: Addressing your concernsMonday | 12 July | 2021
By Reon Janse van Rensburg
Due to the rapid development of Covid-19 vaccines, as well as the new technology used, there are concerns about the safety of these vaccines, which is understandable.
Solidarity tasked its researchers to do thorough research on vaccines. A comprehensive investigation into the development, distribution, safety, risks and other factors pertaining to vaccinations was undertaken. The Solidarity Research Institute (SRI) drafted a comprehensive report on the Covid-19 vaccines, click here.
This research serves to inform Solidarity members and the public and to empower them with sufficient knowledge to take an informed decision themselves.
Although the data overwhelmingly show that the vaccines are safe it is nevertheless important to consider the specific concerns that have been raised.
The SRI looked into the following general questions around Covid-19 vaccines and as a result of in-depth original research answers could be provided in an understandable way.
The vaccines have been developed too rapidly, are they therefore unsafe?
The Covid-19 vaccines have been developed in record time, but this should not come as a surprise. Although Covid-19 is new, the phenomenon of coronaviruses is not new, and scientists have been studying them for more than 50 years. With the outbreak of Covid-19 specifically researchers could build on the mountains of knowledge about coronaviruses to develop a vaccine as quickly as possible. This background knowledge enabled scientists in China to fully unravel the RNA of the Covid-19 virus as early as January 2020 and as a result vaccine development could start almost immediately.
Vaccine development usually is an extremely expensive process, but in this case and given the huge demand there was no shortage of resources. The US government of Pres Trump launched Operation Warp Speed, which released adequate funding for vaccine development.
This is not the first time that a vaccine was developed for a pandemic within a year. In the case of the 2009 swine flu pandemic a vaccine was also developed within a year. Following a meeting in May 2009 to develop a vaccine the first trials for a vaccine started as early as July 2009.
Given this level of resources and demand, as well as the existing knowledge on coronaviruses and the specific knowledge on Covid-19 it is not unusual that a vaccine could be manufactured within a matter of months. This has enabled pharmaceutical companies to start clinical trials as early as May 2020, which eventually meant that phase 3 testing of most vaccines was completed by December 2020 and the successful candidates for human use could be approved.
It is too difficult to transport the vaccine and there is no guarantee that it will still be effective by the time it reaches me
This fear specifically applies to South Africa where the government insists on centralising the procurement and rollout of vaccines. It is a valid fear. However, one has to consider that there are various types of vaccines requiring different ways of transportation.
The Pfizer vaccine is the one that is most difficult to transport because it has to be stored at -70 oC in the long term. What is important is that according to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the Pfizer vaccine can be stored at normal refrigerator temperatures for up to a month. This allays most of the fears about a possible interruption of the cold chain. Refrigerator temperature cold chains are common in South Africa and are effective.
The other vaccines (Moderna, Johnson & Johnson) can be transported by using normal cold chain technology and should not pose any exceptional logistical challenges.
Does the vaccine have serious long-term effects?
The present reality is that the long-term effects of Covid-19 vaccines simply are not known yet because not enough time has passed to determine such effects. This is one area where there is uncertainty, simply because of the fact that no clinical test can move forward in time.
Fortunately, vaccines are not something new and lessons can be learnt from the long-term effects of other vaccines. The history of vaccines shows that most side effects occur within two months after a person has been vaccinated. This history shows that long-term effects are a particularly rare occurrence for vaccines in general, simply because of the way vaccines work. Most of the material used to stimulate an immune response is excreted by the body within a matter of days.
The technology used in the manufacturing of vaccines has been used for many years with minimal long-term effects. mRNA has been used and studied since 1989, and the first experiments on mRNA technology for vaccines were conducted back in 1994.
Other technologies such as the viral vector used in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been in use since 1974. The adenovirus version is used specifically because of its safety in clinical studies of other vaccines.
Data show that the claims that people are dying in great numbers due to vaccination are simply not true. The risk of blood clotting and cardio-related side effects is small. Most of the side effects reported are mild and are similar to those of any other vaccine.
Data show that there is one risk that surpasses that of vaccines and that is not to be vaccinated. Should you decide not to be vaccinated, you have to give serious consideration to the risks that come with it. This includes your own health and the chances of contracting Covid-19, but also the risk of transmitting Covid-19 to other people. Non-vaccinated persons can also continue to spread the virus.
Can you contract Covid-19 after having been vaccinated?
There is no viral Covid-19 protein in the vaccine. This implies that there is no way the vaccine can give you Covid-19 because the virus itself is not contained in the vaccine. The vaccine contains only a modified spike protein.
It is important to first explain what exactly the spike protein is The Covid-19 cell contains several small proteins surrounding it that help the viral cell to attach to your cells. These proteins give the Covid-19 cell that characteristic shape of a crown (corona) around it. Because of its unique nature, the spike proteins have been identified as the ideal target for a vaccine to be based on as all the mutations of Covid-19 have to contain a spike protein.
For the virus to spread, it is necessary for the viral cells to multiply – viral cells must therefore use the spike proteins to attach to your cells and then the viral cell itself has to multiply. The spike protein is not a virus on its own and cannot multiply on its own. Therefore, it is not possible to contract Covid-19 from the vaccine because there are no Covid-19 cells in the vaccine.
Is the Covid-19 spike protein dangerous by itself?
There is no viral Covid-19 spike protein in the vaccine.
Although the viral spike protein on its own can cause damage, it is important to note that vaccines produce a modified, harmless spike protein that is aimed at triggering an immune response so your immune system can then react better when the actual virus makes its appearance.
Does the spike protein of the vaccine spread through your entire body, causing damage in the process?
Although studies on rats show that the spike protein does not specifically stay at the injection site, the same studies also show that most of the vaccine stays near the injection site and then moves to the liver – as expected. The largest amount found outside these areas is 1,03% of the total vaccine dose and is found in the spleen.
The quantity of spike protein that a vaccine produces is 100 000 less than what is required to cause damage. Consequently, the spread of at most 1,03% to outside the vaccination site is not a substantial threat.
Does the vaccine have a harmful effect on breastfeeding?
Only 271 incidents related to mothers who are breastfeeding have been recorded in the US’s Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS system). Most of these pertained to where a breastfeeding mother developed on of the normal side-effects, such as headache or muscle pain. In only 23 incidents specific reference is made to breastmilk. These incidents do describe symptoms such as a baby with more appetite or having a runny nose.
However, there is insufficient data available to reach a conclusion and Solidarity advises breastfeeding mothers to consult their doctor in this regard.
Should one not use ivermectin instead of the vaccine?
Recent research has shown that ivermectin probably is effective in the treatment of Covid-19. Given the possible role ivermectin can play in the treatment of Covid-19, together with the safety of ivermectin in approved doses, it is inconceivable that it has not long ago been included as a possible treatment for Covid-19 in South Africa.
Ivermectin has now been approved for human use in South Africa and may be prescribed by any doctor. As with all medicines, it is very important to stick to the safe dose in order to avoid undesirable side effects.
Ivermectin and a Covid-19 vaccine are not working against each other and focus on different sides of the treatment spectrum. By definition, a Covid-19 vaccine is of a preventive nature, while ivermectin probably is an effective treatment for Covid-19, especially in the early stages of the disease.
Consequently, there is no conflict between ivermectin and Covid-19 vaccines and the two may be used together against Covid-19. It is also strongly advised that you should consult your doctor and that you not get hold of the medication illegally. It is important that your doctor prescribes it to you and that you do not deviate from the prescribed dosage.
Do more people die from the vaccine than from Covid-19?
Vaccines and possible side effects are reported on in exceptionally great detail, and no exceptional deaths have been noted. On the contrary, the side effects of the Covid-19 vaccines are in line with those of other vaccines.
So far, more than 2,9 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines have been administered without a significant number of deaths having been reported in the US or in Europe. The few serious side effects reported (blood clotting and heart disease) are exceedingly rare and are manageable, if dealt with.
On average, about 2 500 people out of 1 million receiving a Covid-19 vaccine should develop a side effect, most of which will be mild. If 1 million people get Covid-19, about 140 000 should end up in hospital with serious symptoms and about 23 000 should die.
A brief analysis of the reported side effects according to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS system) is as follows:
The VAERS data contains 331 630 cases reported as side effects out of 160 million who have been vaccinated.
Given the clinical trials most of these side effects are exactly as could have been expected.
Due to the mild degree of most of these side effects it is very possible that there could be underreporting of mild side effects. However, underreporting is particularly difficult in the case of deaths.
Of these 331 630 side effects there have been 3 523 deaths. If deaths within seven days after vaccination are considered then there are 1 972. That gives a percentage of 0,0013%, or put differently, 13 deaths for every 1 million. Please note – so far no causal connection has been made between these deaths and the vaccine. These deaths include deaths from vehicle accidents, injuries and terminal conditions.
For the sake of context: The current mortality rate for vehicle accidents in America is about 119 people out of 1 million.
VAERS side effects and deaths
Burning questions on vaccines, click here.* All information was correct at the time of publication.
Foto krediet: Spencer Davis | Unsplash