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Frequently asked vaccine questions

A nurse holds a phial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Guy’s Hospital in London, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020. U.K. health authorities rolled out the first doses of a widely tested and independently reviewed COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday, starting a global immunization program that is expected to gain momentum as more serums win approval. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, Pool)

These are frequently asked questions about the Covid-19 Pfizer/BioNTEch vaccine being used in Bermuda. A fuller list is available at https://www.gov.bm/vaccines-faqs Source: Department of Health

Is the vaccine safe?

The vaccine developed by Pfizer/BioNTech has been approved for use in the UK after meeting strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness set out by the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, which follows international standards of safety. It has also been approved for use in the United States by the US Food and Drug Administration.

How does the vaccine work?

The vaccine introduces genetic material called mRNA into the body that contains instructions to make a spike protein of Covid-19. In response to the protein, the body’s immune system starts to make antibodies which provide protection if a person comes into contact with the virus.

What are some of the side effects?

Side effects include a sore arm where the needle went in, headaches, tiredness and achiness. Most side effects are mild, can be treated with painkillers such as Tylenol and should not last longer than a week. If your side effects are more extreme, please contact your doctor.

In very rare cases, people can have a serious anaphylactic reaction within minutes of receiving the vaccine. This will be treated by the qualified and trained medical staff who give the vaccination and who will monitor each person for 15 minutes after the vaccine is administered.

What studies have been done to confirm that this vaccine is safe?

The Pfizer vaccine has been through all the same clinical trials and safety checks as other licensed medicines in the UK, US Canada and Europe. In the UK, a two-month clinical study involving about 19,000 vaccinated people showed the most common side effects were injection site reactions, fatigue, headaches, muscle pain, chills, joint pain and fever.

Is there a guarantee that I will be protected?

The Pfizer vaccine is 95 percent effective. This means that most people will be protected against Covid-19 after receiving two doses of the vaccine. It can take two weeks for the second dose to work, and there remains a small chance you could still get the coronavirus. If you happen to be in the remaining five per cent the chances are that your Covid-19 symptoms will be less severe.

Why do I need two doses?

The Pfizer vaccine is designed to be given in two injections 21 days apart. A typical flu vaccine only requires one dose because it simply puts a weakened or inactivated virus into the body to trigger an immune response and produce antibodies. The Pfizer vaccine works differently by introducing mRNA into your body so your body primes its system. The second dose gives the boost of immunity. While you get some immunity from the first injection, it increases dramatically with the second one.

One dose has been shown to be 52 per cent effective whilst two doses provide 95 per cent effectiveness. If you miss your scheduled second dose or you don't get it on time, get it as soon as you can. The second dose of this vaccine trains the body to provide long lasting immunity that is superior to what is available through natural infection.

For how long will I be protected?

Pfizer/ BioNTech has said it expects protection to last months or even years and it might vary for each individual.

How long does the vaccine take to work?

It starts to work after the first dose but full effect is not seen until after the second dose.

Will the vaccine give me Covid-19?

No, the Pfizer vaccine does not contain the Covid-19 virus.

Should I get the vaccine if I plan on getting pregnant?

If you are trying to become pregnant now or plan on getting pregnant in the future, it is recommended that you get a Covid-19 vaccine. There is currently no evidence that suggests that vaccines, including Covid-19 vaccines, cause fertility problems. Routine pregnancy testing before a Covid-19 vaccination is not recommended, however, if you are trying to become pregnant, you do not need to avoid pregnancy after the Covid-19 vaccine.

Should I get the vaccine if I'm pregnant or nursing?

Data shows that any of the currently authorized Covid-19 vaccines can be offered to people who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Pregnant people are at increased risk for severe illness from Covid-19, which could result in intensive care admission, mechanical ventilation or even death.

Do I have to make an appointment to get vaccinated?

Yes. It is extremely important that you go to your scheduled appointment as there is a limited supply of the vaccine and there are strict storage and vaccination protocols that must be followed. If you don’t attend, you may be depriving someone else from getting a vaccination. Please register your interest for a vaccine at: https://vaccine.resqwest.com/web/

Can babies, children or teenagers get the vaccine?

The current guidelines for the Pfizer vaccine is to be used on people aged 16 and older.

Once I am vaccinated, does that mean I can stop wearing a mask and taking other precautions?

The vaccine has a 95 per cent success rate, seven days after the second dose, so mask-wearing is still required.

You should still wear a mask, wash and sanitise your hands and practice physical distancing until a large proportion of the population is vaccinated and it is confirmed that the vaccine provides long-term protection. Initially, there will not be enough doses in Bermuda to vaccinate everyone who wants the vaccine therefore the virus may still be transmitted.

As the vaccine not only protects against disease but also reduces transmission, and continues to do so for many years, we are likely to reach a state of herd protection when masks, hand washing and physical distancing will no longer be required. Herd protection is achieved when a sufficient proportion of the population is made non-infectious through vaccination or natural infection so that the likelihood of an infectious individual transmitting to a susceptible individual is very low.