Are the COVID-19 vaccines safe?

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Over the past few weeks, as Guyana received more COVID-19 vaccines, the number of individuals vaccinated has increased. Still, many people remain hesitant due to some lingering questions and concerns.

Director of Primary Health Care Services at the Ministry of Health, Dr Ertenisa Hamilton, has been integral in the COVID-19 vaccination rollout across Guyana since it began in February. And, in a bid to edify persons and encourage all persons aged 18 years and older to get vaccinated, she tackles some of these questions and concerns.

Director of Primary Health Care Services at the Ministry of Health, Dr. Ertenisa Hamilton

Q: The COVID-19 vaccines seem as though they were developed quickly. Are they safe?

Dr Hamilton: I think what we must understand is that these vaccines, even though they are new vaccines, the actual process of creating vaccines have not changed significantly. What we do have that is probably different from the vaccines that we would’ve had before would be the two mRNA vaccines – the Pfizer and Moderna.

In the Ebola situation also, they created a vaccine in a short time because there was already a foundation in place of research that would’ve contributed to this happening much faster. 

Q: Do you need to take the vaccine if you recovered from COVID-19?

Dr Hamilton: The thing is, with the first encounter with the SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19), your body does not build the immunity against it that will prevent you from being infected again. With the vaccine, you have a better opportunity to have that immunological response that will actually give you the milder form of the disease. If you have been infected, there have been many cases where persons become re-infected and they would’ve ended up in the hospital. So what you’re doing is you’re giving yourself an advantage of having a better immune response to the disease if you do come in contact with it again when you receive the vaccine, even if you are infected.

Q: Will the vaccines infect you with the coronavirus?

Dr Hamilton: For active immunity, in which your body encounters a pathogen or a harmful germ, it fights against it, builds an immune response so that any other time after it comes in contact with that particular pathogen or harmful organism, it already has a response. So there are two ways your body builds that active immunity; either by coming in contact with the pathogen or the germ itself through that infection process or by vaccination.

But the thing is, if your body comes in contact (with the pathogen) through an infection, it does not mean that you end up with the disease; you can be infected but the body fights the infection and so it never develops into a disease. Whereas, it is the same thing with the vaccine; vaccines are biological preparations in which you have a part of the actual organism or you have the entire organism but it’s always dead or very weakened and the idea is that it is given to you so that it can stimulate a reaction.

You don’t have such a quantity that can cause the disease. All you get is a quantity that can stimulate a reaction so that your body can store the memory so that whenever you are in contact with it again, you are able to fight off the particular germ effectively. And that is the same principle there with the COVID-19 vaccine.

Q: Do vaccines have microchips inside to spy on the population?

Dr Hamilton: As far as we know, there is no nano-particle in the vaccine and there are other vaccines that have been given out on a large scale before. In Guyana, in 1999, we would’ve vaccinated the entire country with yellow fever (vaccine) once persons were eligible. So this is not the first time we are vaccinating the entire population, it is the second time around.

Q: Will vaccines cause pregnant women to have a miscarriage?

Dr Hamilton: As far as we know, the particular vaccine was not tested in the pregnant population and so, we are not giving it to pregnant women.

These tests are ongoing and it is not only looking in the direction of whether you will have a miscarriage, but you have to look at what will be the effect on the foetus. When there is enough information on the safety, then it will be offered to the population but at this point in time, I cannot say that it causes miscarriages because they have not done any testing or given it to pregnant women.

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