Very soon now, the national rollout of the Astra Zeneca COVID19 vaccine will reach us in Foster. Since this nasty bug was first identified just over a year ago, the miracle of the development of a safe and effective vaccine is a real gift to the world. In a couple of weeks’ time the Easter Bunny is bringing it right here.
I know some people are a little worried due to the temporary stopping of this particular vaccine in Europe. Here’s why we can be sure that it’s safe. In a previous article I explained the phases of trials of all drugs including vaccines, so this is just a recap. In short, there are four phases. The first three stages are careful clinical trials, which are designed to make sure the vaccine works, and is safe, in ‘healthy volunteers’. By ‘healthy volunteers’ scientists and doctors mean ‘young and fit’. Of course, many people are neither young nor fit and it is important to make sure the vaccine works in them too – so the last stage, Phase 4, is about seeing what happens in the general population.
In some groups of people it was noted that there were a few who had blood clots soon after having the vaccine (about 30 people from five million vaccinations), so a halt was called to investigate – a totally normal part of Phase 4 monitoring. Specific information has been collected about who has had the vaccine, who has not yet been vaccinated, and other important health information such as blood clots. A thorough analysis has shown that there are no more blood clot problems in people who had been vaccinated compared with people who had not been vaccinated. Therefore, the clots in people who had been vaccinated would very likely have happened even if they had not been vaccinated.
All of this is very good news, as we can be sure that Astra Zeneca vaccines are safe for us and will not cause serious or harmful side effects. There are now very large groups of people in Europe and America who have already had these vaccines, including older and less fit people, and an enormous amount of work has gone into making sure there are no major side-effects. All that might happen are the usual things that sometimes occur after a vaccination (possibly a sore arm, slight fever, headache and so on). Which is of course far better than getting COVID.
Worldwide the COVID vaccines have now been given to people for about three months – about 120 days. There are many, many thousand given each day and well over 300 million doses so far all over the world – roughly two million every day – so by now it would be very clear if there were unusual problems.
Now that winter is not so far away it is also time for our annual flu shots, which protected us so well last year. The combination of flu immunisations as well as all of the COVID19 precautions we contributed to including social distancing, masks, and handwashing, meant that flu and other similar infections were at record low levels last year, a fantastic win for public health! You can see your yourselves how well we did with flu prevention last year, or better till join in the ongoing FluTracker project at https://info.flutracking.net.
With flu shots, occasionally someone is already infected with the flu virus when they get their shot, and it seems as if the shot gave them the flu. For a few people, this will likely happen with COVID vaccines too (and whilst here in Foster there is no COVID, there are other bugs about). You can also develop an illness soon after going to the supermarket, after walking the dog, or having a coffee with a friend – but logically it would not be the cause! Phase 4 surveillance information also shows that vaccines protect us from these major diseases, and even if we are already infected when we are vaccinated they stop the disease being as serious as it might otherwise have been, because the vaccines make our immune systems early.
All of this means that in the coming weeks we will be getting three immunisation shots – two Covid19 about 12 weeks apart, and a flu shot somewhere in the middle, at least two weeks after a Covid19 shot. This might sound a little complicated, but it will all make sense when the time comes. Careful plans are being made on our behalf by many people, we just have to wait a little longer for our turn. We will all get plenty of notice about when it is our turn and what to do, so don’t call the clinic just yet, it will only slow them down! I wonder if they will have chocolate eggs at the vaccination clinic for afterwards …
So don’t fear the COVID and flu vaccines – they will free us from worry. And prepare for these shots by getting ready to bare arms!
Adjunct Associate Professor
Department of Public Health
College of Science, Health and Engineering
La Trobe University