The COVID-19 vaccine rollout is imminent, can the public feel confident it is safe?
The COVID-19 vaccine is scheduled to be rolled out in Australia next week, but many people are still unsure about its safety or side effects.
We asked viral immunologist and THRF Group funded researcher Dr Branka Grubor-Bauk your toughest vaccine questions!
The vaccine approval appears to have happened very quickly, how can the public feel confident that it is safe?
People feel like this is something new and that it’s been rushed, but some of these technologies are more than 10 years old.
In Australia, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has provisionally approved two vaccines (Pfizer and AstraZeneca) and they have gone through the exact same testing process as, for example, the meningococcal vaccine you give to your child or the flu vaccine that you take.
The TGA rigorously assesses vaccines for safety, quality and efficacy before they can be used in Australia. Vaccines receive the same high level of scrutiny as other prescription medicines and related therapeutic goods.
The TGA’s decision to register a vaccine for use in Australia is informed by the advice of the Advisory Committee on Vaccines (ACV), which is an independent committee appointed by the Australian Government Minister for Health. It is composed of members with expertise in science, medicine and public health, together with a consumer representative. The ACV complements expertise in the TGA, ensuring that assessments of vaccines are as robust as possible.
COVID-19 vaccine development may appear to have happened fast, but this is what can happen when medical research is properly funded!!
But does cutting red tape mean taking short cuts?
Not at all, these vaccines have simply been given priority and pushed to the head of bureaucratic queues due to the global emergency.
Plus, many pre-clinical studies were done concurrently, instead of one after the other. But all the processes were still absolutely followed, no corners have been cut.
Rest assured there’s never been greater scrutiny on any medicine in the world as there has been on development of COVID-19 vaccines!
In the past, vaccines have been victims of their own success. We are so lucky in this day and age that vaccination has reduced disease, disability, death and inequity worldwide. Today, someone like me doesn’t need to have eight children in the hope that one will reach adulthood and not die from vaccine-preventable disease.
It has been speculated that some approved vaccines only have 50% protection, so what’s the point?
Even 50% protection may mean the difference between ending up in hospital on a ventilator or getting over COVID-19 like the common cold.
The collective goal at the moment is to prevent severe infections and prevent deaths. We need to stop the healthcare systems from getting overwhelmed. This is not just important for people with COVID-19, it’s so that a 30-year-old doesn’t die from breast cancer because she couldn’t go for a mammogram.
Immunisation, together with public health measures is the only way we can curb virus transmission and spread in the community.
Can pregnant women feel safe being vaccinated?
To start with, you’re more likely to have severe complications from COVID-19 if you’re pregnant. So there has been a huge initiative to examine the safety of the vaccines so that pregnant women can take them.
Developmental and reproductive toxicology pre-clinical studies are in progress and those results are due soon.
The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation’s most recent advice is that if you have no high-risk factors for severe COVID-19 or are not at high risk of exposure to the virus, you may prefer to wait until after your pregnancy.
This is no cause for concern, ATAGI and TGA are just being extra cautious.
Additionally, although pregnant women have been excluded from original trials, there are women who became pregnant or didn’t know they were pregnant and have received the vaccine. They are being monitored closely and to date there haven’t been any adverse events.
Some people are nervous about side effects from the vaccine shot, what should they expect?
After the second shot with mRNA vaccines (which includes Pfizer), some individuals may feel a bit off, like you’re coming down with something, your arm may hurt and you might have a headache or even a fever.
It’s similar to when your child is getting the Meningococcal B vaccine, you’re told to give them paracetamol beforehand to ease some of these side effects.
But all of that is good, it means our immune system is doing exactly what it’s meant to be doing.
For all other up-to-date information on COVID-19 vaccines in Australia, visit: https://www.health.gov.au/initiatives-and-programs/covid-19-vaccines