What is a vaccine?

Vaccines are medical products that are given to people (both children and adults) to protect them against serious and sometimes deadly diseases. Vaccination is a simple, safe, and effective way of protecting people against harmful diseases before they come into contact with them.

What is a COVID-19 vaccine?

It is a vaccine that is intended to provide immunity against COVID 19. A number of safe and effective vaccines have now been produced and approved for use and countries have started rolling out COVID 19 vaccination programmes to protect people.

How do vaccines work?

Vaccines train your immune system to create antibodies, just as it does when it’s exposed to a disease. However, because vaccines contain only killed or weakened forms of germs like viruses or bacteria, they do not cause the disease or put you at risk of its complications.
● Some vaccines require multiple doses, given weeks or months apart.
● This is sometimes needed to allow for the production of long-lived antibodies and the development of memory cells.
● In this way, the body is trained to fight the specific disease-causing germ, building up to memory in the immune system to fight disease.
● Vaccines reduce risks of getting a disease by working with your body’s natural defences to build protection against specific diseases.

What is herd immunity?
● When a lot of people in a community are vaccinated, it becomes difficult for a disease to circulate because most of the people it encounters are protected and cannot catch it. The more people who get vaccinated the lesser the risk of getting the disease in a community. This concept is referred to as herd immunity. This is the reason why it is important for all eligible people in our communities to be vaccinated against all vaccine-preventable diseases.

● Herd immunity also prevents disease outbreaks by making it difficult for the disease to spread since most people will be protected. The disease will become more and more rare, sometimes even disappearing entirely from that area and in the country.

● Herd immunity for COVID 19 can be reached if 60-80% or more of the population at risk is vaccinated Are vaccines necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19? Yes, vaccines are an essential public health measure for the prevention and control of COVID 19 locally and globally. Vaccines have been a major pillar for the control of similar epidemics in the past and will equally be important for COVID 19. The vaccines will complement existing prevention and control measures, and not replace them. Zimbabwe together with the rest of the world is rolling out safe and effective COVID 19 vaccines to control and eventually eliminate COVID 19 burden in the country.

Why should I get vaccinated?
Vaccines save lives. Vaccinating not only protects yourself but also protects those in the community who are unable to be vaccinated against vaccine-preventable diseases that can cause serious harm or death. Those who cannot be vaccinated like very young babies, the very ill or those with certain allergies and people with compromised immune systems depend on others being vaccinated to ensure they are also safe from vaccine-preventable diseases. Without vaccines, we are all at high risk of serious illness and disability from diseases like measles, meningitis, pneumonia, tetanus, polio and COVID 19.

Who can get vaccinated?
Nearly everyone can get vaccinated. However, because of some medical conditions, some people should not get certain vaccines or should wait before getting them. Your health provider will help to decide on which vaccine is recommended or not recommended for your particular condition. Will I be forced to take the COVID 19 vaccine?
You will not be forced to take the COVID-19 vaccine. The government recommends all eligible persons in Zimbabwe to take up COVID 19 vaccination when their turn comes unless a medical practitioner advises against it. While vaccination will not be mandatory it is important to note that various institutions employers and countries may require proof of COVID 19 vaccination upon entry/hiring to protect other citizens as the roll-out of COVID 19 vaccines continue.

Are vaccines safe to use?
Yes. Vaccines are generally very safe and have been in use for many years in Zimbabwe and the rest of the world. It is a legal requirement that all vaccines and medicines used in our health facilities undergo rigorous safety testing, including all recommended clinical trials before they are approved for use. All vaccines (including COVID 19 vaccines) go through a comprehensive approval process by global and local medical regulators to ensure that
they are safe for use in humans.

The Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe only registers vaccines that meet quality and safety standards for use in Zimbabwe. Safety monitoring for vaccines is also an ongoing activity in routine immunisation and vaccination campaigns in Zimbabwe.

Are there side effects from vaccines?
Minor reactions can occur after getting a vaccine such as pain or swelling on injection-site or mild fever and irritability in children. This is a sign that your body is building the immune response that it needs to protect you from severe disease and its more in the second dose but will go away after a few days. The second dose repeats the process and is a firm reminder of the threat and infection. Not only does the threat make the immune system work even harder but it also solidifies maximum protection against COVID 19, a fight one dose cannot do alone. More serious side effects such as shock and persistent fever are possible, but extremely rare and vaccinators are trained to manage these. It is advised to visit your health facility for advice if you are worried about your condition after vaccination. In reality, a person is far more likely to be seriously harmed by disease than by a vaccine.

How quickly can COVID 19 vaccine stop the pandemic?
The impact of COVID 19 vaccines on the pandemic will depend on several factors.
These include factors such as:
● The effectiveness of the vaccines;
● How quickly they are approved, manufactured, and delivered for use
● How many people get vaccinated?
Wider availability and uptake of effective COVID-19 vaccines is expected to have greatest impact on the pandemic and can facilitate early return to normalcy. COVID -19 vaccines are not 100% effective hence you will need to continue to practice all other recommended behaviours even after vaccination.

Will other existing vaccines help protect me from COVID 19?
Currently, there is no evidence that any existing vaccines will protect against COVID 19. Studies are however being carried out on whether some existing vaccines are also effective for COVID 19 prevention.

What happens if a problem is suspected with a vaccine?
● If a potential problem is reported following vaccination in Zimbabwe, a thorough investigation will take place. Investigations involve a thorough examination of the case in question, including medical assessment by experts. If necessary, detailed studies are conducted.
● During these investigations, it is extremely rare that health problems are found to be caused by the vaccine itself.
● Health events are most often found to be coincidental, i.e. entirely unrelated to vaccination.
● In the rare cases where a genuine adverse reaction is suspected, the vaccine may be suspended and or recalled if necessary to protect the people. Further investigations will take place to determine what exactly caused the event, and corrective measures put in place.

What process is followed before a vaccine is given to the public?
Before COVID 19 vaccines can be delivered:
● The vaccines must be proven safe and effective in large clinical trials.
● A series of independent reviews of the efficacy and safety evidence is required.
● The evidence must also be reviewed for the purpose of policy recommendations on how the vaccines should be used.
● An external panel of experts convened by WHO, called the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE), analyses the results from clinical trials.
● The panel then recommends whether and how the vaccines should be used.
● Officials in individual countries decide whether to approve the vaccines for national use and develop policies for how to use the vaccines in their country based on the WHO recommendations. All COVID 19 vaccines in use have been approved for emergency use by either WHO or other Stringent Regulatory Authorities (SRAs) in manufacturing countries

What steps are taken to ensure the COVID 19 vaccine is safe?
COVID 19 vaccines go through a rigorous, multi-stage testing process, including large trials that involve tens of thousands of people. These trials, which include people at high risk for COVID 19, are specifically designed to identify any common adverse events or other safety concerns. Once a clinical trial shows that a COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective, a series of independent reviews of the efficacy and safety evidence is required, including regulatory review and approval in the country where the vaccine is manufactured, before WHO considers a vaccine product for prequalification. An external panel of experts convened by WHO analyses the results from clinical trials, along with evidence on the disease, age groups affected risk factors for disease, and other information. The panel recommends whether and how the vaccines should be used.

Who approves COVID 19 vaccines?
In the countries where vaccines are manufactured, national or regional regulators oversee a vaccine’s development. This includes approving clinical trials, evaluating their results, and taking decisions on licensing. In deciding, regulators refer to very strict international standards on acceptable ethical clinical practice. Once a vaccine has been developed, our local regulators and experts decide whether to introduce the vaccine in Zimbabwe. Bodies such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) provide information to support this process, through a comprehensive evaluation of the available evidence, and regularly updated position papers on vaccines

What happens to routine childhood immunisation during COVID 19 vaccination period?
Routine childhood immunisation is an essential health service that should not be disrupted even during the COVID 19 vaccination period. Parents and caregivers of children should continue to bring their children to health centres and vaccination points for vaccination and other child health services while practicing COVID 19 prevention behaviours. Talk to your health worker to know if there any changes in timing of provision of immunisation services at your health centre induced by COVID 19 control measures or restrictions.

I still have questions about vaccination. What should I do?
If you have questions about vaccines be sure to talk to your healthcare worker. He or she can provide you with science-based advice about vaccination for you and your family, including the recommended vaccination schedule. When looking online for information about vaccines, be sure to consult only trustworthy sources like the Ministry of Health and Child Care, WHO, UNICEF, Africa CDC websites and pages.

Summary of key messages on COVID 19 vaccine
● COVID 19 vaccines provide immunity and protect us, and our communities from serious COVID 19 disease.
● It is important for us to get the COVID 19 vaccine when our turn comes so that we can protect ourselves, our families, friends and communities.
● The vaccination process will be done in phases starting with those at highest risk until all eligible people are covered. Meanwhile, we need to ensure adherence to all COVID 19 prevention behaviours at all times by all members.
● COVID 19 vaccines have been developed after thorough scientific research and are being introduced after being declared to be safe for the public in various trials.
● It is true that the COVID 19 vaccines have been developed in a short time frame, but they have all undergone the protocols of various levels of trials, following due scientific processes and due diligence. All safety protocols have been followed and there have been no compromises in bringing the vaccine to the general public.
● Adequate safety and efficacy tests have been done on COVID 19 vaccines and necessary regulatory approval has been given. Safety monitoring will also continue during and after vaccination as with all other vaccines in use in Zimbabwe
● While vaccines are now available for some people in the initial phase, it is critical that all of us continue to follow all the COVID 19 recommended behaviours, to ensure that we stay protected.

Source: Ministry of Health and Child Care

Post Author: Chido Luciasi

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