The multiple rounds of research and relentless efforts from the medical and scientific community got us our first line of defence against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) – the vaccines.
In India, we have two variants of the vaccine – Covishield (manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, partnering with AstraZeneca and Oxford University, who helped develop it) and Covaxin (developed by the Indian Council of Medical Research and the National Institute of Virology, and manufactured by Bharat Biotech).
These two vaccines were passed under the emergency use authorization issued by Indian regulatory bodies for immediate vaccination to curb the spread of COVID-19. The two vaccines are to be taken in two doses, with a minimum gap of 4 weeks between them.
How does a vaccine work?
Vaccines work in different ways, depending on how they have been developed. Globally, there have been 14 vaccines approved by at least one regulatory body that can be administered to the public, while many are still undergoing trials for approval.
Overall, a vaccine puts in a part, or the whole of the target virus in the body, which is harmless enough to not cause fatality or severe infection but is potent enough to teach the immune system how to cope with it. Depending on which part of the virus is used to make the vaccine, COVID-19 vaccines can be categorised as follows:
- Inactivated vaccines use a weakened variant of the whole virus, so it does not cause disease but still generates an immune response. E.g., Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin.
- Protein-based vaccines use chemically synthesized parts of proteins (called peptides) to mimic actual viral proteins that cause the COVID-19 disease to safely generate an immune response. The Russian EpiVacCorona and the Chinese RBD-Dimer are two such vaccines.
- Viral vector vaccines use a harmless ‘vector’ or a carrier virus that cannot cause severe disease by itself, but rather, acts as a carrier to deliver the genetic code of the novel COVID-19 virus in the body to generate an immune response once injected. The Oxford-AstraZeneca Covishield vaccine is an example.
- Messenger RNA and DNA vaccines use principles of genetic engineering to inject the viral genetic material (DNA/RNA) into the body that eventually codes for the viral protein, which prompts an immune response. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines approved for use in the USA are examples of mRNA vaccines.
Which vaccine to take?
It is important to know what both vaccines have to offer. But, considering the current surge in cases and knowing that the vaccine is our only option for reducing the burden on the healthcare system, it is advisable to take whichever is available. However, people with comorbidities should consult their doctors before getting the vaccine if any ongoing medication needs to be stopped (especially for patients under immunosuppressive drugs).
Who is eligible for vaccination?
Everyone above the age of 18 is eligible for vaccination, including people with existing comorbid conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, pulmonary disorders, breathing issues, liver and kidney diseases, and chronic infections which are stable and controlled by medication.
Healthcare workers (HCW) and frontline workers (FLW) should take the vaccine on a priority basis, given that they are most vulnerable to getting infected owing to the nature of their work. The elderly population should also be vaccinated on priority, owing to existing comorbidities and age.
Both vaccines are safe and have been tested through various clinical trials before being vetted by regulatory bodies. There have been reports on rare side effects of the vaccines, such as blood clots. But the benefits of the vaccines outweigh the risks by a huge margin. Moreover, patients on medications like blood-thinners can take the vaccine as it does not affect their health.
Who is not eligible for vaccination?
In India, pregnant women are advised not to take any of the COVID-19 vaccines as studies are yet to be done on the effects of the vaccine on pregnant women. The same goes for lactating or breastfeeding women, and those planning to undergo IVF treatments. (This is purely due to insufficient data in India).
Patients with any form of anaphylactic (allergic) reaction to any food items, pharmaceutical drugs, or any previous doses of vaccination (not limited to COVID-19 vaccines) are advised not to take the vaccine.
Patients suffering from COVID-19 are advised to wait for at least 18 to 24 days after recovery, before taking the vaccine. Patients who have received convalescent plasma (from another donor who has recovered in the past three months) or any other form of anti-COVID-19 antibodies or have any acute illness that may or may not require hospitalisation are also advised not to take the vaccine immediately. Expert medical advice is recommended in these cases.
Patients with bleeding disorders, like haemophilia, should consult their doctors for an expert opinion before taking vaccines. Similarly, patients who have been admitted to hospitals due to bleeding disorders are advised not to get vaccinated before discharge.
Children below the age of 18 are advised not to get vaccinated due to insufficient data pertaining to this age group. However, large-scale clinical trials are underway that include all age groups, and this data should be available soon.
What are the benefits of getting vaccinated?
The improved immunity due to the vaccine will effectively reduce life-threatening complications caused by the novel coronavirus and reduce the number of hospitalisations. If one is adequately protected against the virus, one can also protect those around him/her, especially the elderly, those with a compromised immune system and comorbidities, and the healthcare workers. This would, in turn, lead to lowering the load on the Indian healthcare system, which is already overburdened.
Vaccination will also ensure fewer deaths due to COVID-19 complications. If one is getting vaccinated, one should understand the benefits of vaccination and educate others about these benefits.
What are the side effects of vaccines?
The vaccinating officer asks patients to wait for half an hour inside the vaccination centre to observe any immediate adverse effects that include severe allergic reaction, increased heart rate, dizziness, swelling up of the face and throat, and rashes all over the body.
Mild to adverse effects include pain and swelling at the injection site, malaise, mild fever, body ache, and headache. The vaccine officer would advise medication in case of prolonged adverse reactions. However, these reactions only last for a day or two before one is fit enough to move again.
Please remember, getting vaccinated does not mean you will not contract COVID-19 later. It means that even if one gets infected, it will not lead to severe complications/hospitalisation.
DISCLAIMER: The information included at this site is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment by a healthcare professional. Because of unique individual needs, readers should consult their physician to determine the appropriateness of the information for a reader’s situation.