The Jewish Chronicle
Vaccines: Your questions answered
Experts address common queries about the Covid-19 vaccines
MILLIONS OF people across the UK have now received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. The vaccines give you the best protection against Covid-19 by teaching your body’s immune system how to fight the real virus, should it need to. The two vaccines currently being administered in the UK have met strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness set by the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). But, as with any new medicine, people may have questions they would like answered. Below, experts provide answers to some of the most common ones.
I am young and fit, so why do I need it? I wouldn’t be expected to have the flu jab – why is this any different?
● Dr Farzana Hussain (below), a GP in Newham, East London: “Covid is not like flu. Young people don’t get longterm side effects from flu and they don’t die from flu; it’s mainly elderly people that die. While for Covid, if you’re younger, you are less likely to die, but various factors such as ethnicity can put you more at risk. There is also a phenomenon we are seeing more and more of — long Covid. This is a horrid illness. We also want to protect everyone — unless we protect ourselves, we’re just not going to get that immunity we need for our society.”
I’ve had Covid, so have the antibodies. Why should I have the jab?
● Dr Hussain: “What we don’t know is how long that immunity lasts after you’ve been infected, and, of course, we know there are lots of variants. It’s still important for people to have the vaccine — it will give you better immunity for much longer.”
I’ve been called up for the vaccine, but want to wait for more people to have it to ensure it is safe. Is this wise?
● Dr Raghib Ali (right), senior clinical research associate at the MRC Epidemiology Unit, University of Cambridge, and a frontline NHS doctor: “Millions of people have taken the vaccine around the world. We don’t need to wait any longer — we know it’s safe. Some people get short-term side effects, such as fever, fatigue or tiredness. In my case, I experienced some of these for a couple of days. I’ve seen the alternative, which is getting Covid and potentially ending up in intensive care or dying.
Was the vaccine tested on all sectors of society to ensure it is safe for everyone?
● Dr Ali: “Vaccine trials have been carried out all over the world, in Asia, South America, China and Africa. So people of every background have taken part in these trials, including ethnic minorities in the UK. We know that it works in all ethnic groups.
“The other point is that our immune systems do not really vary based on ethnicity.”
I’ve seen in the press that there have been some really severe allergic reactions. How do I know this won’t happen to me?
● Dr Ali: “Severe allergic reactions are very rare — there have only been a handful of cases. As long as you do not have an allergy in response to the ingredients themselves, it is safe to take the vaccine.”
Is the vaccine safe for people with underlying conditions such as diabetes, heart disease or asthma, and will it interact with my medication?
● Dr Ali: “It is perfectly safe in people with diabetes, heart disease and asthma — there are no increased side effects and it does not interact with any medications used to treat these conditions. If you are concerned, ask your doctor.”
Can I ask my doctor for a specific Covid jab? Is it right that some have worse side effects than others? Was the testing of some more rigorous than others?
● Dr Ali: “No — both the Pfizer/ BioNTech and Oxford University/ AstraZeneca vaccines are effective, equally well tested and equally safe. There is also no evidence that the side effects from one vaccine are worse than for any other.”
Why is there a gap between the required two doses?
●Dr Ali: “The interval is based on advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation and the UK’s chief medical officers. Data from clinical trials show that a 12-week gap is best for the Oxford vaccine, and is also fine for the Pfizer vaccine. This saves more lives overall than we could do by giving two quick doses to half as many people.”
The vaccine was developed so quickly — I don’t understand how
they’ve managed to make a vaccine for such a new illness?
● Reverend Dr Temi Odejide (left), resident pastor of House on the Rock London, a Christian church, and a qualified medical doctor: “If you talk to people in this field, you understand that, yes, the vaccines were produced extremely quickly, but none of the safety processes were compromised. Technology has also advanced significantly, so we can now produce vaccines at scale much faster than before.”
I accept that the trials have shown the vaccine to be safe, but how do I know that dangerous side effects won’t show themselves in a few years’ time?
● Dr Nikki Kanani (right), a GP in South West London and medi
cal director of Primary Care for NHS England: “Our confidence comes from knowing how other vaccines behave. We have vaccinations all the time, either in childhood or when we go abroad. When side effects occur, they usually happen within 24 hours or a few weeks, rather than years. Plus, scientists have been testing the vaccines for months and using them in the real world since December. All the data show that serious side effects are very, very rare.”
Do the vaccines protect against new variants of Covid?
● Dr Kanani: “Everything that we’ve seen so far says that they do, probably to differing extents. We also know that over time all viruses change, which results in the need for new vaccines — as happens every year for flu — and that scientists will be able to tweak them relatively quickly.”
Do religious groups endorse the vaccine?
● Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation: “People ask if the vaccine is compatible with their faith, and many religious leaders have said yes. There is a letter from 80 Jewish doctors in the UK to confirm that the vaccine does not contain ingredients considered non-kosher.
“The British Islamic Medical Association considers all types of the vaccine as recommended, as does the Muslim Council of Britain, the British Sikh community, the Church of England and the Catholic Church. ”