Covid vaccine: uptake high as older generation leads the way

29th Jan 2021
Covid vaccine: uptake high as older generation leads the way

(Photo credit: Pixabay/Torstensimon)

Over 3 million people have now received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine in the UK. Doctors are reporting that uptake has been high among those offered the first doses, despite concerns that apprehension about a new vaccine and misinformation may affect people’s decision to come forward.

Given priority, due to their high risk the over 80s and healthcare workers, have been the first to be called up – and they have responded positively. It is hoped that seeing the older generation come forward and get their doses will mean that the rest of the nation will follow.

It is hard to believe that nearly a year on from the first lockdown we are facing another wave of cases and another lockdown. Hospitals and healthcare workers are under enormous pressure to deal with the rising number of Covid-19 patients, which is now higher than in the first wave last spring. Every day the headlines talk of hospitals in danger of becoming overrun.

he vaccines now seem to be the major lifeline that will help get the country back to some sense of normality. Surveys have previously shown that acceptance of the vaccine was always higher in older age groups, so it is not surprising the over 80s have responded positively. However, as the older generation leads the way it is hoped that as more people get the vaccines, and more data is collected it should help younger groups feel more confident about coming forward. There are still some who have concerns about the vaccines, and unfortunately, there is plenty of inaccurate information circulating on social media and through word of mouth.

 

Some common concerns are outlined below

The vaccine was produced so quickly

Yes, it was, but vaccine technology is not new (we have all had vaccines before). Technology to produce vaccines is well established and many of the vaccines were produced using vaccine systems that had previously been used for other diseases. Once the genetic code of the new Coronavirus was sequenced, and the information shared, then researchers could start using existing technology to create a vaccine.

Given the global demand for a vaccine, many researchers across the world stopped their projects and the researchers, pharmaceutical and biotech companies focused entirely on coronavirus. Data was also shared openly between scientists and nations, and collaborative research teams were formed. Clinical trials for other new drugs were halted and the infrastructure supporting trials was turned over to coronavirus vaccine efforts. All of which helped speed up the process of identifying suitable vaccine candidates and initiating clinical trials.

Normally, before scientists start a research project they need to write proposals and apply for funding, which takes time. But due to the pressing need for a vaccine, financial investment came from governments and other sources speeding up this process.

Recruiting people for clinical trials is time-consuming, but huge numbers of volunteers came forward. The time needed to test how effective a vaccine is will vary depending on the number of cases in the community, but Covid-19 was a global pandemic; it was active in communities across the world, so vaccinated volunteers were exposed to the virus quickly and data on the effectiveness of the the vaccines could be collected within weeks. This way, the pandemic itself helped to speed up the clinical trials process.

Once data from the trials had been collected and analysed, it was sent to the regulatory agents for approval for all the usual checks. However, due to the need for a vaccine, the data from Covid trials was prioritised by the Regulatory authorities for analysis.

 

The vaccines use a live version of the coronavirus

None of the vaccines approved in the UK (Pfizer, Oxford and Moderna) use live virus, so you do not get Covid-19 from the vaccines. Instead, they use a piece of genetic code that instructs the body to make a small part of the viral protein coat – known as a protein spike.

This mimics what viruses do, they enter our cells and release their genetic code, which instructs the cells to make new viruses. But in the case of the vaccines, the cells only produce a small part of the virus. The body will recognise the protein spikes as foreign and initiate an immune response, forming antibodies. If the person subsequently becomes infected with coronavirus, the antibodies will fight the infection and stop the person from getting ill.

mRNA vaccines can alter your DNA

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and the Moderna vaccine, utilize a new type of technology called messenger RNA, or mRNA for short. This mRNA directs the body to build the spike protein which in turn triggers an immune response.

The Pfizer vaccine is the first mRNA vaccine to be licensed, leading to suspicion from some groups. One myth is that mRNA vaccines can alter human DNA. Human DNA is kept inside the nucleus, a membrane-bound structure within cells, and scientists have stated that the mRNA does not enter the nucleus of the cell so does not interact with our DNA. The cells use the instructions in the mRNA to build the coronavirus’ spike protein, which triggers an immune response, the mRNA and is then broken down by the cells within a few days.

 

We don’t know the long-term side effects of the vaccine

In the trials involving thousands of people, all the vaccines had a good safety profile, with side effects similar to other vaccines, e.g., injection site pain and stiffness. Some people developed a slight temperature, headache and muscle aches, but these were short-lived – in general, most people had little or no side effects at all. Monitoring of side effects will continue as the vaccine is rolled out – and data is being collected from all over the world. Whilst the Pfizer vaccine may be the first mRNA vaccine to be licensed, they have been used in clinical trials of a rabies vaccine since 2013 so there are already long-term safety data from these trials.

Millions of doses of the vaccines have already been given here in the UK and in other countries – with the numbers growing daily. So far, the vaccine seems to be well tolerated by individuals. Looking at the risk-to-benefit side of things,it cannot be predicted how an individual will react to Covid-19 or its long-term effects. In some cases, Covid-19 causes severe illness and even death, sometimes leading to longer-term health issues referred to as long Covid.

 

Can I still get Covid-19 after receiving the vaccine and does getting it minimise the symptoms if I do catch the virus?

All vaccines take a while to work. Usually, it takes about 2 weeks for the body to start producing antibodies after the first dose, and trial results showed that two doses of the current vaccines give much better protection than only one dose. The first dose will confer some immunity which is boosted by the second dose; data suggests that maximum protection is achieved about 10 days after the second jab. Therefore, you are not protected in the first few weeks after your vaccination, so you must take precautions as you are still vulnerable to getting Covid-19.

Data from the trials suggest that the vaccines are around 90-95% effective, so not everyone will develop a strong immune response. A small percentage of people may still be vulnerable to the virus, but the immune response they produced should still offer some protection and reduce the severity of symptoms. It is important, that as many people as possible get the vaccine, to reduce the incidence of the virus in the general population.

 

The flu vaccine protects you against Covid-19

Flu and Coronavirus are two different viruses. So, the flu vaccine does not protect you from Covid-19.

 

I have had Covid-19 so do not need the vaccine

Doctors are advising that even if you have had Covid-19 you should still get vaccinated. The duration of the immunity is not known and the antibody levels could be falling. Data shows that vaccinated people have higher levels of protective antibodies and the protection will last longer against the coronavirus than people who were naturally infected.

Rachel Kayani

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