It’s finally happening. Vaccines for Covid-19 are steadily becoming more available to the general public. Pending any future vaccine rollout hiccoughs, one day soon there will come a time when most of society is vaccinated, and it may feel like the world is just a little bit safer from this virus.
As people prepare to get vaccinated, there are a few natural questions that come up. What should they expect immediately following their vaccination, what will be safe for them, and what they should continue to avoid, just to name a few of the primary concerns.
While it is tempting to consider oneself in the clear to go back to a normal routine, certain safety precautions should be kept in place. The Australian Government recommends that basic safety measures (testing, contact tracing, quarantine, and isolation) all remain in place.
To look into it a bit further, the CDC explains how and when people are considered fully vaccinated. People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose. The only exception to this would be for patients who received a single-dose vaccine (not yet approved in Australia), in which case they are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after.
It’s also important to remember that “fully vaccinated” does not mean in the clear with regards to risk. Some people do not seroconvert to vaccines (produce a sufficient immune response), and new variants of COVID-19 may not be very well protected by the vaccine. In fact many epidemiologists believe that we may well need annual COVID-19 vaccines for variants which mutate each year (I guess we’ll see in time).
One of the biggest concerns to the public is the possibility of reactions to the vaccine itself. All vaccines (all medicines) can cause side effects.
Common side effects from COVID-19 vaccines include:
- pain, redness, and swelling around the injection area,
- tiredness for a few days,
- muscle or joint pain,
- rever / chills
Expected and common side-effects are related to the immune system being activated by the injected antigen and from the action of injecting liquid into a muscle through a needle. Most side effects go by themselves and only last 1-2 days. An icepack wrapped in a teatowel can be used to manage pain. Paracetamol or ibuprofen are not routinely recommended to take post COVID-19 vaccination.
It’s important to note that while these side effects are considered common, there’s no guarantee that they will occur. Many have not experienced any negative side effects at all, after getting their vaccine. Conversely, some patients did report stronger variants of these listed side effects.
As with any vaccination or medication, reach out to your doctor or local hospital if more concerning or urgent side effects arise. More concerning symptoms can include shortness of breath, swelling in the legs, chest pain, abdominal pain, and a persistent headache not mostly relieved by paracetamol.
Remember the 2nd dose!
When you book (or have) your first vaccine dose, remember to book your second vaccine. The recommended minimum time from first to second dose is 3 weeks for the Pfizer vaccine and 4 weeks for the AstraZeneca vaccine (noting that the recommended interval between doses for Astra Zenica is 12 weeks).
Your second vaccine must be carried out with the same COVID-19 brand as the first dose.
Can you get COVID-19 from the vaccination?
No. None of the COVID-19 vaccines contains live coronaviruses. Therefore, the virus is unable to replicate and grow to cause an infection. For example, the Astra Zeneca vaccine delivers genetic code instructions to produce the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein only which is recognised by the immune system. There are no changes to the human DNA through this process. These are the same steps which occur when a virus invades normally, except that the spike proteins are reproduced instead of more viruses.
However, it is possible for a person to catch COVID-19 just before or after a vaccination and therefore return a positive test due to an active infection acquired before the vaccine was effective.
Some side-effects from COVID-19 vaccination might be similar to symptoms of COVID-19. It is important to still get a COVID-19 test performed at your local testing centre if you have any of the respiratory COVID-19 symptoms including a runny nose, cough, sore throat, loss of smell or taste, even after you have been vaccinated.
Travel and What Can You Do When Fully Vaccinated
The list of restrictions will vary depending on the state and country, so it is important to look up local laws before considering travel (and make sure your travel plans allow cancellations due to unforeseen circumstances).
Despite being vaccinated, the advice from the government is to take the same COVID-safe precautions that you have taken pre vaccination (such as wearing masks, physical distancing and frequent hand washing). This may change with time and increasing vaccination, but it’s really a case of watch this space and be patient.
The University of Chicago was interviewed about what is safe to do after you’ve been vaccinated, and the link provides some interesting information.
Domestic travel will depend on local outbreaks and what quarantine measures governments take with these outbreaks. It is still not clear when we can expect international borders to open.
Many experts do not expect international travel to and from Australia to open up to what it was before the pandemic began until 2024, so this is a season for developing patience.
You can still get COVID-19 after vaccination, so think of others in the public
Research to current date shows that the vaccines prevent severe COVID-19 disease very well, but it may still be possible to be infected with, and to spread COVID-19 to other people. Therefore, it is important to be tested if you have any COVID-19 symptoms, even after you have been vaccinated.
Even when vaccinated, masks may again become recommended or mandatory if and when there are future outbreaks. This is to protect those that have not received a vaccination yet (either due to lack of availability or medical reasons). Addiotionally, Dr. William Schaffner from Vanderbilt University Medical Centre advises to follow these practices for another reason: social pressure. Without knowing the vaccination status of those around, it is easier to feel safe when seeing masks in place.
When it comes to public health, it is better to err on the side of safety.
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