Prof. Jaoko debunks COVID-19 vaccine myths

COVID-19 vaccine.

There are high hopes COVID-19 vaccines will help end the pandemic. However, there have been claims about these vaccines that have received mixed reactions from all quarters some advocating for the vaccines and others heavily criticizing the vaccines based on the manner in which the vaccines were hurriedly developed and approved raising safety and effectiveness concerns.

We sat down with Prof. Walter Jaoko, Director KAVI Institute of Clinical Research sheds more light on the safety to set the record straight on some of the myths circulating about COVID-19 vaccines.

1. Is COVID-19 vaccine safe and should Kenyans have any fears going for the vaccine?

All COVID-19 vaccines being used in the world currently have been tested for safety - at first in animals (what is called pre-clinical trials) and then in human beings (clinical trials). In human beings, the vaccines have gone through 3 phases - phase one focusing on safety; phase 2 focusing on whether they stimulate responses that can help the body fight the virus causing Covid-19; and phase 3 showing that the vaccine works in either preventing people from getting Covid-19, o

2. Briefly explain how the vaccine works.

It is important Vaccines are different from medicines. When one takes medicines, it is the medicine itself that fights the disease causing germ and it is therefore required that it remains in the body for a long time so as to keep fighting the germ; Vaccines on the other hand do not fight the germ but instead, it stimulates the body to produce either antibodies or special white blood cells that then fight the disease causing germ when the body comes into contact with it.

3. Is it normal to exhibit side effects after being vaccinated?

All medicines and vaccines have side effects. What is important before a drug or vaccine is registered for use is that the side effects must be tolerable and not serious. The covid-19 vaccines being used now have been shown to be safe when they were tested in thousands of people who participated in the trials. However, the vaccine will now be given to millions of people and we don't know if there will be new side effects that were not seen during the trials. The side effects seen in the trial were - pain and swelling at the vaccination site, feeling tired, fever, and nausea. These lasted a few days and mostly disappeared on its own without requiring any treatment.

 4. Can one still get or spread COVID-19 after vaccination?

Although we hope that vaccination will prevent those vaccinated from getting covid-19, this is not guaranteed. What has been shown is that vaccines prevent people from getting severe disease that leads to hospitalization and needing oxygen, prevents people from requiring ICU treatment, and therefore prevents death. Places where many people have been vaccinated, there has been some evidence of reduced transmission of Covid-19.  

5. Why is the vaccine not administered once like BCG vaccine?

There are vaccines that are given once and some that are given twice at an interval of 21 days and some at an interval of 28 days. This is based on findings of what worked based during clinical trials. The best dose, the best route and best frequency of vaccination is determined during phase 2 clinical trials. 

6. Who should not be vaccinated and why?

Every adult should be vaccinated. However, because we do not have enough vaccines to go round, this has to be prioritized. Priority groups include healthcare workers because of their increased risk of infection, those working in the uniformed forces, teachers, elderly people, those with other disease conditions that put them at risk of getting severe Covid-19 disease such as those with diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, kidney disease etc.

7. What role is UoN playing in the whole process of vaccination?

Vaccination is a function of the Ministry of Health. However, UoN is involved in advocacy, sensitization of the population to understand issues around the vaccine.