by Dr. Michael Dillon – Family Physician, Shoreline Medical –
At Shoreline Medical, patients are frequently asking for details about the Covid Vaccine. Thanks to my colleagues at Atikokan Medical Centre and Family Health Team, I am pleased to share this current information and a link where you can keep updated on British Columbia’s covid vaccine plan.
How does the COVID-19 vaccine work? The vaccine is similar to an instruction set, like one from IKEA. It shows your body a picture of the furniture. Specifically it shows the spike protein, which are the spikey parts sticking out of the virus. After getting the vaccine, your body starts to make only the spike protein (not the whole virus). Your body can then practise getting rid of the spike protein (like how you learn about how to make the furniture by reading the instructions ahead of time). This means if your body runs into the actual COVID-19 virus, it already knows what to watch out for and can get rid of it faster.
Can the vaccine give me COVID-19? No. The vaccine does not contain any virus, alive or dead. There is no way for your body to get COVID-19 from the vaccine because all your body is seeing is a “picture” of the virus (specifically the spike protein). It is like how you cannot assemble IKEA furniture with just the instructions – you need the pieces too! – and the vaccine does not have the pieces.
What about the new variants of Covid – will the vaccine still work? Yes. Your body’s immune system is very smart. Your body can still recognize the virus even if there are small changes.
Once I get the vaccine, how long until I am immune? About two weeks after the first dose of the vaccine, there will be a moderate level of immunity. However, the highest level of immunity starts about one week after the second dose of the vaccine.
Will this change or affect my DNA? No. The COVID-19 vaccine uses mRNA. Humans do not have the ability to convert mRNA to DNA. We can only turn mRNA into protein, specifically the spike protein, which your body uses like an instruction set to practice what to get rid of.
Is the vaccine safe if I am pregnant or breastfeeding? Generally, yes. The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC) issued a statement in support of pregnant and breastfeeding mothers receiving the vaccine. In summary, getting the vaccine is safer than getting COVID-19 while pregnant.
Is the vaccine safe for children? Children were not a part of the vaccine studies, which is normal. Children are at lower risk for severe COVID-19. Since the vaccine reduces the risk of severe COVID-19, children are likely not going to be immunized until most adults have been first.
Is the vaccine safe if I am immunocompromised? What about if I have an autoimmune condition? If you have an immunodeficiency condition, are immunocompromised due to a disease or treatment, or have an autoimmune condition, you should contact your healthcare provider to have a chat about your particular situation and come to a decision together.
What is in the vaccine? Is there anything toxic or harmful? The mRNA (instruction set) is in the vaccine. This is wrapped in a small bubble of fat, or cholesterol (like a cardboard box) to keep it safe. There is some sugar and some electrolytes to keep the bubble of fat safe (like wrapping paper around the box). There is nothing toxic or harmful in the vaccine, and there are also no preservatives!
What are the side effects? Not everyone gets side effects. For those who do get side effects, almost all of them should be gone after 48 hours. The most common side effects are mild to moderate pain at the injection site, low-grade fatigue, a low-grade fever, muscle aches and/or a headache. Severe anaphylactic reactions to the vaccine are extremely rare (0.001%, or 11 out of 1 million).
What if I am allergic to eggs and cannot get other vaccines? Can I still get the COVID-19 vaccine? Yes. There is no egg protein in the COVID-19 vaccine, or in the flu vaccine for that matter, so people with egg allergies can get either. It is possible to be allergic to something else, but a major allergic reaction is extremely rare.
Once I get vaccinated, can I stop wearing a mask? Unfortunately no. The vaccine reduces the risk of severe COVID-19 by about 95%. However, even if we are vaccinated, we might still be able to transmit the virus to other people who are not vaccinated. In order to keep other people safe, we need to keep wearing masks, washing our hands, and maintaining physical distancing.
This feels fast? Did scientists or the government skip steps? No. The vaccine went through the same steps as any other vaccine. It was developed quickly because of never-before-seen levels of funding and collaboration around the world, with everyone working together to make a vaccine faster.
When will I be able to get the vaccine? Each province has developed its own plan to distribute the vaccine. For detailed B.C. updates, visit https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/emergency-preparedness-response-recovery/covid-19-provincial-support/vaccines.